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Queen Bee

Posted by martinteller on July 13, 2013

Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow) travels from the Midwest to the South, to stay at the home of her cousin Eva Phillips (Joan Crawford), who has been her benefactress.  She finds the inhabitants of the Phillips home bitter.  Eva’s husband Avery (Barry Sullivan) is a beaten-down alcoholic, scarred by a mysterious car accident.  Jud Prentiss (John Ireland) is Eva’s former lover and now manages the family mill.  Avery’s sister Carol (Betsy Palmer) is in love with Jud but doesn’t know about his past with Eva, nor the fact that she keeps attempting to seduce him.  Over this brooding household rules Eva… the manipulative, possessive, passive-aggressive queen bee.

This is first and foremost a Crawford picture.  It’s the role her daughter Christina says was closest to her true persona.  There’s a lot of camp value to Crawford’s performance — the sudden outbursts, the icy barbs, the snake under the glamour.  And even the rare moments of true vulnerability, making her not just a femme fatale, but a lonely woman who hasn’t found any way to deal with it besides dragging everyone else down with her.  Although she overshadows the rest of the cast, the others fare well enough, particularly Sullivan.

Noted noir cinematographer Charles Lang (The Big Heat, Sudden Fear and Ace in the Hole, among others) generally keeps the photography simple but effective.  There is one hell of a stunning reveal in the film’s third act, as Eva’s manipulations have tragic consequences.  Some of the melodrama doesn’t have sufficient impact and the film is draggy in parts, but overall it’s an entertaining study of an outwardly charming but cold-hearted woman and the household she has poisoned.  Rating: Good (74)


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