As someone in the beginning stages of schizophrenia, the voices in my head kept telling me that I should check out this movie starring Joan Crawford as a woman who goes off her rocker because of her obsession with Van Heflin.
With his boyish good looks and roguish charm, Van probably should have come with a warning label, especially since he causes Crawford’s Louise to disintegrate beautifully from a healthy, emotionally needy nurse to a deranged rich dame who imagines things and suffers from enormous mood swings.
Van plays David Sutton and is one of those single guys that likes hanging out with women so long as they know that it isn’t anything too serious. He’s an engineer of some sort and is prone to saying stuff like “I know two plus two is always four” and expects Louise to understand why this means they’ll never be married.
Of course, since she’s really needy and is way too busy embarrassing herself by saying stuff like “I have no pride” she fails to see the logic in David’s pithy little sayings.
Everything starts with a very wan-looking Louise wandering around town looking for David. She stops men in the street and thinks they are David and eventually passes out in a diner. She gets hauled off to the hospital and the doctors shoot her up with some magic drugs to make her start talking.
She’s been traumatized by something and can barely respond, but you know how women are, so pull up a chair and settle in for awhile because she’s about to unload over an hour an half worth of flashbacks of her pathetic life story on you.
Back in the past, David finally ditches her so she goes back to being a nurse to this nasty rich woman. Before you know it, they’re pulling her bloated carcass out of the lake that her fancy home sits on. A coroner’s inquest rules that it was a suicide and that Louise is free to scheme her way into being the widower’s (Dean) new and even crazier wife.
There is a bit of a hitch to all of this though. Seems that this old coot went and had himself a couple of kids before his wife took ill. One of them is young lady named Carol. Carol is one of those spoiled twerps prone to firing off the remarkably clichéd, but nonetheless always appreciated “you’ll never replace my mother” bombs on Louise.
David returns and gets himself slapped by Louise for dumping her again (this is about the fourth time he’s told her that it is over) and she goes nuts, but recovers just enough to accept Dean’s wedding proposal, even after telling Dean that she doesn’t love him. I guess Dean wants to marry her because he was lonely and what better way to alleviate that than to marry a chick who has the personality of about ten different chicks.
Before the big wedding, Louise goes to see Carol and says that she won’t marry Dean if it is going to make Carol unhappy. Naturally, Carol feels a little guilty (in spite of being a spoiled ungrateful brat) that she might cause her dad to be really lonely so she relents and says she’ll support Dean and Louise and the marriage is back on!
But guess who shows up at the reception? David wasn’t invited, but he heard about an open bar in the neighborhood, so here he is! Guess who he hits on when he’s there? The very young and eligible Carol! Guess who sees this and is ready to soil her wedding gown? The very married-to-a-man-she-doesn’t-love-and-highly-unstable Louise!
She tells David to get lost and quit sniffing around Carol, so he and Carol immediately start dating. In spite of all this good news (loveless marriage, ex-boyfriend you’re obsessed with is dating your new husband’s younger and sexier daughter) Louise seems to be getting worse mentally and begins seeing and hearing things that might not really be happening.
Crawford does a nice job as Louise and is able to move convincingly along the spectrum of emotions and actions that someone who is going crazy might have to endure. Sometimes she seems fine, sometimes angry, sometimes inconsolably sad, and sometimes all three of these things within moments of each other.
What’s interesting in the way her character is written is that she actually realizes that something is wrong with her and even surreptitiously seeks help from a doctor for her condition, making her someone you can care about and believe in as a character. She doesn’t follow up with any treatment though and her husband is an overly nice guy that thinks she just needs to relax, so she just keeps getting worse.
The movie doesn’t cheat and have her go nuts all at once or even has her do anything spectacular when she is nuts. She slips in and out of sanity as the movie progresses, each episode worse and lasting longer than the last until she finally succumbs completely.
Van Heflin’s character is not the nicest guy in the world, but the movie doesn’t portray him as a soulless cad and David comes off as a guy who just didn’t love Louise and eventually found love with someone else. It makes things resonate all the more that when the two have their final confrontation, it isn’t just some player getting his just deserts and some crazy broad getting revenge, but is actually the destruction of two lives that still had potential.
A surprisingly prescient movie for its time in showing the dangers of leaving mental illness untreated (crazy people will kill you!) with Crawford handling the fine line between portraying a real person suffering from these problems and simply being a scenery-chewing character with great aplomb.
© 2013 MonsterHunter