One of the most durable and successful actresses of the classic era, Joan Crawford survived several declines to have one of the longest running careers in cinema history. Starting in the silent era, Crawford made the transition to talkies and became a major star in the early 1930s. But by the end of the decade, she was labeled box office poison and her career appeared to be in jeopardy.
In 1945, however, she one the Oscar for Best Actress, only to falter once more. Following numerous ups and down, Crawford finally went into seclusion until her death in 1977. While her legacy has been marred by her daughter's tell-all book that included accusations of child abuse, Crawford's work has remained virtually unparalleled. Here are six classic movies starring the incomparable Joan Crawford.
Having already been branded a star in the silent era, Crawford made the successful transition to talkies and had her first big hit opposite Clark Gable in Clarence Brown’s melodrama Possessed
(1932). Crawford delivered a solid performance as the upwardly mobile Marian Martin, a woman who takes on a new identity as a divorced woman, only to find her world come crashing down when her wealthy benefactor (Gable) decides to run for governor. Certainly not her most accomplished film, Possessed
was a big hit and solidified Crawford’s standing as one of Hollywood’s top stars.
MGM Home Entertainment
Directed by George Cukor
, who always favored strong female characters, The Woman
starred Crawford as one of three bored New York socialites prone to gossiping and extramarital affairs. Co-starring Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell as the other two titular women, the film featured Crawford as a shopgirl who manages to sink her hooks into the husband of a happily married woman (Shearer) and becomes the talk of the salon. While Shearer comes across as happy and sweet-natured, Crawford is at her venomous best in the flashy role of homewrecker. The film was a comeback vehicle for the actress after being labeled box office poison the year before.
In her most recognized and iconic roles, Crawford took home the Oscar for Best Actress
for her brilliant portrayal of a divorced woman who stops at nothing to manage financial security for her and her two daughters (Ann Blyth and Jo Anne Marlowe). Directed by workhorse helmer Michael Curtiz
, the noir-like drama Mildred Pierce
portrayed Crawford as a struggling waitress who becomes a restaurant owner with the help of a sleazy real estate owner and later enters into a loveless marriage with a wealthy man (Zachary Scott) in order to secure her standing, all while facing ruin around every corner. Crawford’s powerful performance earned critical acclaim as well as the Oscar, and once again revived a career that looked as though it were on the decline.
20th Century Fox
While not her most memorable movie, Daisy Kenyon
does feature a quality turn by Crawford as a Manhattan commercial artists caught in a love triangle between a married attorney (Dana Andrews) and a widowed war veteran (Henry Fonda
). Though she does right by marrying Fonda, Crawford’s titular Daisy is still in love with Andrews. Imagine her surprise when he’s suddenly divorced and comes calling once again. Directed with a steady hand by the great Otto Preminger
, Daisy Kenyon
was elevated beyond the mundane by Crawford’s typically resolute performance.
A rather odd, but subversive Western
, Johnny Guitar
stepped into a more masculine role as Vienna, an Old West saloon owner longing for the railroad to be built and fill her otherwise empty establishment with thirsty customers. Her support of the railroad puts her at odds with Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), a land owner who will stop at nothing in keeping both the railroad and Vienna out of town. The title comes from Sterling Hayden’s guitar-straddled drifter, who happens to be Vienna's former lover. Directed by Nicholas Ray, Johnny Guitar
boldly shattered gender myths of the Old West, where meek women become the aggressors, while typically gun-toting men wilt like a flower in the hot sun, making for one of the stranger films of Crawford’s career.
In her last truly great performance, Crawford once more revived her career and assured her place in cinema history as one of its greatest stars. Here she was Blanche, a wheelchair bound former star who’s tormented by her sister Jane (Bette Davis
) after decades of jealousy for being overshadowed. Turned invalid following a car accident, Blanche does little more than sit in her room watching old movies while the garish-looking Jane feeds her dead rats for lunch and plots her own comeback. Though rumors were rampant about a virulent feud between Crawford and Davis, both maintained a public posture that all was well. During the Oscars, where Davis was nominated but her costar wasn’t, their feud did spill out a bit when Crawford – who was furious over being snubbed – delighted in accepting the Best Actress
award on behalf of friend Anne Bancroft.