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Female on the Beach

Posted by martinteller on November 30, 2012

“The old witch.  Breaking her neck just when we were about to get a dollar out of her.”

The recently widowed Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford) arrives at her beach house, with the intention of selling it.  Although her real estate agent Amy (Jan Sterling) tries to cover it up, she soon discovers that the previous tenant Eloise Crandall (Judith Evelyn) has died there the night before, breaking through the balcony and plummeting to her death.  On top of this, there’s pushy beach bum Drummond “Drummy” Hall (Jeff Chandler) hanging around all the time.  She brushes off his blatant attempts at seduction, especially after finding Eloise’s diary, which details the heartbreak she experienced at the hands of Drummy and his “aunt and uncle”, a pair of con artists named the Sorensons (Cecil Kellaway, Natalie Schafer).  But then she begins to fall for him anyway….

I had no clue what to expect to from this movie.  The 6.2 IMDb score didn’t give me a lot of hope, and I figured it would most likely be some kind of lame and dreary melodrama.  All I knew was that the title is alarmingly similar to an earlier noir, The Woman on the Beach (is there a movie called A Female Under the Influence out there somewhere?  Eat Drink Male FemaleFemales on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?).  The plots, however, are nothing alike.  Moreover, I found this vastly more enjoyable than its similarly named predecessor.

Like another fantastic Joan Crawford noir that caught me totally off guard, Sudden Fear, it’s a “woman in peril” (or, uh, female in peril) movie.  But it completely upends the formula.  Usually it goes: woman seduced, woman gets suspicious, suspicions confirmed.  In this case, Lynn is totally not into Drummy at all for quite a while.  Eventually she starts to show some mild curiosity, but it’s only after she learns what a heel he is — and possibly a murderer to boot — that she gets really turned on.  Like so many things in this movie, it’s surprising and unexpected.  I never quite knew where it was going next.

Charles Lang’s photography is okay, but not great.  But everywhere else there are signs of greatness.  The script (by Robert Hill, whose later credits include She Gods of Shark Reef and Sex Kittens Go To College) is packed with fantastic lines, some really funny and campy stuff.  There’s this wonderful Freudian moment for Chandler’s character out of nowhere.  The score by Roemheld and Stein is very good, often quite smoky and evocative.  The opening scrawled-in-the-sand credits gave me a feeling I was in for something special.

Crawford, pushing 50 by this time, still sports formidable sex appeal… and isn’t shy about flaunting it.  She gets numerous opportunities to show off her shapely gams.  Her character doesn’t use sex for leverage, but she’s not hesitant to satisfy her urges.  You can tell Crawford is having a good time here, too, especially in some of that delightfully sarcastic back-and-forth in the first half of the film.  Chandler is great as the hunky boy toy.  Kellaway and Schafer (was she ever not Lovey Howell?) are a hoot as well, so charmingly casual about their parasitical way of life.  And Sterling practically steals the show as the jealous, jilted Amy… at one point attempting a murder/suicide by speedboat!

I could pick the film apart… some of the character motivations are less than believable, and in a sense the movie never really takes off.  But I enjoyed the heck out of it.  It’s full of entertaining dialogue, unusual developments, and camp (but not in a “so bad it’s good” way) appeal.  Joseph Pevney is three for three with me.  A highlight of Noir-vember, even if it’s not especially noir.  Rating: Very Good (87)

IMDb
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