Fill in the blank with your own title; I’ll provide Possessed, a “minor” noir released in 1947, and starring Joan Crawford as Louise, a pathologically obsessed nurse. I only call it minor because of its relative obscurity; critically its reviews are limited, the most in-depth of which (and certainly not one to sneeze at) is a marvelous short essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin published in Film Comment.
Perhaps timing pushed the film into Joan’s back canon. Released after Crawford’s Academy Award-winning turn in Mildred Pierce, Possessed definitely lacks the glossiness of Michael Curtiz’s iconic noir, immediately noticeable in its opening scene. Stripping away Crawford’s glamour, she’s first revealed to the audiences sans make-up, wandering empty urban streets with a glassy-eyed gaze, and addressing every man she sees as “David.” It’s a terrific melodrama—Joan can't shake her desire for self-absorbed, non-committal neighbor David, even though her wealthy employer marries her after the curious death of his invalid wife. The psychological agony Joan emits in her performance is quite gripping, particularly in a twisted scene that plays upon Louise’s demented point of view, an enactment of a wish fulfillment fantasy so immersive that the audience practically jolts when reality sets back in. It’s indulgent, high-pitched and a film to revel in.
I’ve singled out Possessed not merely because it’s special, nor because it’s one of the few movies I popped right back in the DVD player a day or two after first watching it, but because of the way I saw it; the recommendation came from a friend and fellow film lover. After watching Possessed, I immediately asked several friends if they had seen it, resulting in – I’m proud to say – more than one person adding the movie to their Netflix queue. That resulting chain is a small one, but stayed in the back of my mind as something we all do—we, as in anyone who loves movies. Regretfully, we're on a perpetual downslide lately in all facets of cinema; video stores closing at a rapid-fire rate, print critics losing their positions, magazines and newspapers folding. These cultural and economic shifts weigh more than the number of supposedly lackluster new releases this year (a tired refrain, don't we go through this every X years or so?)
But back to Possessed; here I am, trumpeting the film on a larger platform than my close circle of friends and colleagues. While the Internet is a blessing and a curse (I sincerely fear carpal tunnel syndrome), it’s more beneficial than not to our generation for a few reasons. Rather than ballyhooed isolation, it’s fortunate that I (and everyone at this site) have an opportunity to reach beyond the repetitive top ten lists of ’08 and toss in a few oddballs that may have someone seeking more Joan post-Possessed (I’ve certainly been). It’s also the very real future of any film criticism—as we lose our print journals and far too many local newspaper critics, word of mouth will be a constant, the casual to passionate dropping of film titles in conversation both here and in person that keeps cinematic conversation alive despite the economic strife we're all facing. I have sincere sympathy for the past, and realize that bantering video store clerks will go the way of soda shops and radio serials, but maintain that movies will remain as long as the enthusiasts do. We have a bumpy, but exciting road ahead.