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Crime of Passion (Blu-ray Review)

16 Oct, 2017 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, Royal Dano, Fay Wray.

By the late ’50s and before her ’60s-and-later TV renaissance, my favorite actress of old-school royalty, Barbara Stanwyck, was mostly relegated to what used to be “shaky A’s” — i.e., those not quite classifiable but frugally budgeted genre pics that had just enough production values to avoid the ‘B’ stigma yet were rarely top-of-the-bill releases. Indeed, in my own town, Stanwyck starrer Crime of Passion found its first-run way to playing under the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn teaming Desk Set, certainly a double bill I’d pay to see today and a good example of the kind of twisted synergy I always think about whenever someone touts how much more diverse the movie-going is experience today. “Diverse” can have more than one definition.

With a new true 1.85:1 rendering that has more going for director Gerd Oswald’s sometimes detail-packed framing than the old compromised MGM DVD did, Passion on Blu-ray is still a hit-and-miss affair that wavers through a good set-up, some boilerplate courtship material and then some nasty stuff that half-compels — though in sometimes rush-job fashion that gives the impression that maybe the filmmakers aren’t getting all that’s to be had out of the material. There’s a crime, though, certainly a lot of passion, and let’s not forget scheming All, and especially the last, play to Stanwyck’s acting wheelhouse.

The movie’s opening plays like something I might have paired back in my programming days with the 1935 Bette Davis-Michael Curtiz Front Page Woman, for contrasting ’30s vs. ’50s ganders at the way Hollywood looked at aggressive “gals” who wanted to make it in the then predominantly male world of newspapering. If anything, Passion’s ’50s powers-that-were give Stanwyck an even tougher time here than their Davis-Curtiz predecessors did — though, truth to tell, the standout offender is easily a cop played by Royal Dano (c’mon, Royal, you’re a guy who played Abe Lincoln, for God’s sake, in the famous James Agee-penned Lincoln biopic that aired on CBS earlier in the decade). This walking pile of dyspepsia doesn’t even give Stanwyck a softening wink when giving her the standard “Why aren’t you home cooking and having babies?” He probably wants her to give him a running account of plot machinations on Search for Tomorrow, as well.

The cops are in the San Francisco offices of her newspaper in the first place because they need help (which they basically demand) on a case. In the process, Stanwyck falls for Dano’s partner (Sterling Hayden), and in a union that today might pop up on BadMatch.com, moves to L.A. as part of a new cop job for hubby. Soon, this one-time bylined pro is sick of having to endure the insipid chatter of the other officer wives and quickly carves out her own agenda, one involving getting Hayden on the fast track to promotion over possibly more-qualified hopefuls. Stanwyck goes into full “take-charge” mode as Hayden turns into the kind of overwhelmed mate he rarely played on screen. Oswald gets a good visual out of this at a domestic “function” in which she’s clearly ruling the roost amid a large police-oriented social group, and Hayden’s body language suggests a Vaughn Monroe tune that had hit the Top 10 three years earlier: “They Were Doin’ the Mambo (But I Just Stood Around).”

To me, the most interesting parts of this middling melodrama with compensations is seeing Stanwyck insinuate her way into the graces of the chief inspector’s wife (a played-for-sucker Fay Wray) and her husband (Raymond Burr) who smells something from the get-go. This is a really interesting role — and interesting historical timing — for Burr, who was just half-a-year away from the premiere of TV’s “Perry Mason.” I can remember my mother at the time expressing doubts over that summer that such a portly villain would be right for the Mason role, an understandable reaction if you’d seen him in, say, Adventures of Don Juan or Rear Window or any number of predominantly villainous turns in his early career. Aided by just a little salt and pepper in his hair, this one is a subtly effective performance by the actor, whose character turns out to be something of a creep and a match for Stanwyck, who, as a result, gets to go into some of those Babs screaming fits she always aced later in her career (think Executive Suite).

Obviously, no good can come of this, and this is a decent enough minor view — though it’s never going to be the conversation-maker Ken Russell’s 1984 Crimes of Passion (plural) with Kathleeen Turner and Tony Perkins was, another in a long string of movies in which Norman Bates’s erection got him into all kinds of surreal trouble. Some parts of the Blu-ray look sharper than others, but the most cosmetically keen parts of this release are really the way crisp black-and-white should look, at least to my eye. This is the first ClassicFlix disc I’ve seen to date (though I have Budd Boetticher’s The Killer Is Loose), but it gives me hope for the respectively new and coming Anthony Mann two-parter: T-Men and He Walked by Night (the latter credited to Alfred Werker, but it also has Jack Webb and great sewer footage, no matter which one you think directed).

About the Author: Mike Clark

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