Movie: Crime of Passion (1956)

Barbara Stanwyck is a newspaper columnist being pressured by a misogynist cop to surrender the location of a woman who murdered her husband.  Her face says “you and what army?” while her mouth says, “Make me.”

This happens early in 1956’s Crime of Passion.  This is a picture usually labelled as a film noir, but is really what they used to say is a “women’s picture”.  I’m not sure if that label was meant to be derisive.  That’s just what they used to call movies like this where the central character was a woman.

Stanwyck is awesome in the first act.  I was surprised a movie of this vintage would have such a strong-willed female character.  In the work at the paper, she is accepted as one of the boys.  At the conclusion of that scene with the rude cop, she sarcastically adds, “Am I being detained?  Because, if you do that, then I can’t be home in time to make dinner for my husband.”

And yet she will soon tie the knot when she falls hard for the rude cop’s partner, played by Sterling Hayden.  This is a very consistent man without any greater goals in life.  I can appreciate that, but Stanwyck is increasingly frustrated by his lack of desire for promotion.  Soon she is reduced to the stereotypical shrieking harpy of the times, screeching lines like “Is this what you want?  This mediocrity?  Don’t you have any ambition?”

Possibly even worse is when her husband tries to console her with the kind of condescending talk employed by all men in 1950’s movies.  I liked her response: “Stop talking down to me like I’m an idiot child.”

There is one standout scene that conveys her frustration in a way I think anybody can relate to.  At a party, she is stuck in the dining room with the wives of his work buddies and their inane patter.  She wanders into the kitchen when the guys are and tries to talk shop with them, like how she used to blend in with the guys at the newspaper, but gets the cold shoulder.

Raymond Burr plays Hayden’s boss.  There’s an instant spark between him and Stanwyck.  I’m sure he’s just thinking she wants to get horizontal with him.  Maybe that’s part of it, but her end goal is to get him to select her husband as his eventual replacement.  Alas, she is unable to sleep her husband to the top and she ends up killing Burr.

The movie started getting wobbly as soon Stanwyck and Hayden married, but now it flies off the rails like Wile E. Coyote on a rocket sled.  Stanwyck’s character had been steadily getting more insecure and unstable.  Now she loses all vestiges of the intelligence she demonstrated previously.

It’s a shame the movie becomes so stupid because it has clever, and even humorous, dialog in its first act.  Consider this exchange: “I’ve never had an accident, not in 20 years!”  “Well, keep trying, dear.  Never give up hope.”  Also, Fay Wray is in a small part and it was interesting to see her in something so long after King Kong.

It is difficult to recommend Crime of Passion.  Stanwyck’s performance in the first act is so thoroughly enjoyable that it is disappointing to see her reduced to little more than hysterics by the time we get to the third act.  Odd, but I recommend watching the movie only until she gets married and then turning it off. 

Dir: Gerd Oswald

Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr

Watched on Classic Flix blu-ray