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Female on the Beach
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Universal-International. 97 minutes. US release: 8/20/55.
DVD release: 6/4/12 as part of 4-disc "Women in Danger: 1950s Thrillers" set.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Lynn Markham"), Jeff Chandler, Jan Sterling, Cecil Kellaway, Natalie Schafer, Charles Drake, Judith Evelyn, Stuart Randall, Marjorie Bennett, Romo Vincent.
Credits: Based on the play "The Besieged Heart" by Robert Hill. Screenplay: Robert Hill, Richard Alan Simmons. Producer: Albert Zugsmith. Director: Joseph Pevney. Camera: Charles Lang. Art Director: Alexander Golitzen. Music: Joseph Gershenson. Wardrobe: Sheila O'Brien. Editor: Russell Schoengarth.
Plot Summary: This movie is ideal for those in the mood for something steamy, overwrought and wonderfully trashy. Billed as a mystery, it centers on hapless Joan Crawford as a wealthy gambler's widow who exchanges the lights and excitement of Vegas for the anticipated serenity of the isolated beach house that she leased sight unseen. Unfortunately she soon discovers that she gets a lot more than she bargained for when she learns that the previous tenant, fell or was pushed off a balcony to her death. She also finds herself contending with a handsome and persistent beach-bum gigolo. Though she knows he is a bum in more ways than one, she cannot help but fall in love with him. Unfortunately, she stumbles across the deceased tenant's diary and learns the ugly truth, forcing her to choose between self-preservation and unbridled passion. ~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide
Bosley Crowther in the New York Times
August 20, 1955
A rich widow moves into a beach house at the beginning of "Female on the Beach," the new Universal melodrama that came to the Palace yesterday. And before this ungracious lady knows it, she is falling heedlessly in love with the very neighbor who had been loved by her predecessor, also a rich widow, now deceased.
This is the situation into which Joan Crawford is propelled in this slow and old-fashioned mystery thriller, which accompanies the vaudeville bill. Was Miss Crawford's hapless predecessor murdered in cold blood by the neighbor? And will this neighbor, performed by Jeff Chandler, marry Miss Crawford and then murder her, too?
Since Mr. Chandler is quite clearly the hero in this film—a casual, relaxed and cheerful fellow whose only fault is he hasn't got a job—it stands pretty much to reason he's not going to do the heroine in. So the one single matter that has you guessing is who, if anyone, killed the other dame?
This is a minor question that is suspended for a little more than an hour as Miss Crawford and Mr. Chandler labor grimly toward a storm-lashed climactic scene. Their progress is rendered no more fetching by the inanities of a hackneyed script and the artificiality and pretentiousness of Miss Crawford's acting style. At the end, the guilty party is revealed in a ridiculous way. Jan Sterling, Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer are the supporting players you may remotely suspect.
TV Guide Online:Sorely lacking in protagonists that the audience can either like or identify with, Female on the Beach stars Crawford as the widow of a Las Vegas gambler who comes to Balboa, California, to take up residence in a beach house she's never seen....Everyone overacts in this film, with the exceptions of Kellaway, Schafer, and Drake. Crawford is guiltiest in this respect; she not only chewed up the scenery, but was probably starting on the camera equipment by the time filming ended.
If you've seen Female on the Beach and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Shane Estes (June 2010)
Rating: of 5
When it comes to Joan Crawford I tend to be more of a biased critic because I’m an obsessed gay fan, but I’ll say if it’s a bad film or not, and Crawford has definitely made a few stinkers. Female on the Beach, despite some bad reviews at the time and the fact that a lot of critics today shrug this film off as camp, is a good film; classic 50’s Crawford and one of my personal favorites. It’s definitely in my top 10. Everyone I’ve shown this film to has enjoyed it immensely, full of suspense and laughing the whole way.
Production details surrounding this picture are few and far between, but from what I’ve read Crawford had a lot of control over this film, complete with cast and script approval, and she did like the picture after it was finished. Interestingly, I read somewhere that this film was a gift for Crawford from the president of Universal Studios (Milton Rackmil) whom she was dating at the time.
I am a huge fan of film noir, and Female on the Beach is the epitome of this genre in the mid 1950’s. All the elements are there: dark, shadowy camera work, the femme fatal and the homme fatal, the crime at the beginning of the film and the details given later in flashbacks, theme of murder, etc. The classic period of film noir is in the 1940’s, but it persisted into the 1950’s and as it evolved it developed characteristics that are sometimes interpreted today as camp, especially toward the end of the period, which is usually agreed upon as 1957 with the release of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (with Marlene Dietrich as a fortune teller!). I could see how the old-fashioned 50’s acting style could be taken by some people today as campy, but I think this is a highly entertaining film noir. A great example of the genre. A Joan Crawford beach film noir comedy! Three genres in one!
Joan looks great in this film. Her aging hard-edged noir looks go great with the dark themes presented here. I think she looks better in this than she did in Queen Bee, which came out later that same year. The story is simple so I won’t give away too much. Lonely rich widow (Joan Crawford) falls for shady but ridiculously sexy beach gigolo (Jeff Chandler) with a psycho ex-girlfriend (Jan Sterling). Natalie Schafer reunites with Crawford for the first time since Reunion in France (1942), this time playing a cheating and gambling card-shark aristocrat-wannabe instead of a Nazi’s wife, but nevertheless it somehow comes off as the same character she always plays: Mrs. Howell.
The film is full of hilarious one-liners. Some of my favorites are “I wouldn’t have you if you were hung with diamonds upside-down,” and “I’d like to ask you to stay and have a drink, but I’m afraid you might accept." Another good one is when Chandler makes himself at home in Crawford’s kitchen and he asks her, “How do you like your coffee?” to which she replies with a cold, “Alone.” But my favorite line from the film has to be when Crawford says to Sterling, “I have a nasty imagination, and I’d like to be left alone with it.”
Kelly Pearce (March 2009)
Rating: - 3/4 of 5
“Female on the Beach” is tawdry, sleazy, and hilarious. In this outing, Crawford was entering the sunset of her career. She was still stunningly beautiful, but this is where the “hard-faced Joan” becomes difficult to miss. Joan’s performance in “Female on the Beach” is gaudy, bitchy, and unforgettable.
Crawford plays “Lynn Markham,” an ex “specialty dancer” who, recently widowed, inherits her dead gambler husband’s fortune, and a beach-front property in Balboa, California. The house Lynn moves into isn’t without its ghosts, though. The night before Lynn is to take possession of the property, the previous tenant, drunk and distraught over the end of her relationship to gigolo boyfriend, Drummy (played by Jeff Chandler), accidentally takes a terminal dive off of the balcony. Understandably, the property manager / estate agent (played by Jan Sterling) neglects to mention it to Lynn (even though there are police wandering around and there is a noticeable section of railing missing from the balcony). Adding to the sordidness, Lynn’s new neighbors, Queenie and Osbert Sorenson (played by Natalie Schafer and Cecil Kellaway) are oily grifters that are, for all intents and purposes, pimping Drummy.
Lynn’s new abode is a hive of activity. People are always dropping in unexpectedly. Drummy just comes and goes whenever he feels like it; the police pop in and out of the house unannounced. Lynn objects to the constant stream of people, but her pleas to be “left alone” fall on deaf ears. Drummy gloms on to her, and pursues her with all the subtly of a leather queen in a gay parade. Lynn plays hard to get, but we all know that she’s secretly hot for him. Interestingly, her character understands and accepts that Drummy is a gigolo. She knows that he will cost her money, and that in reality, he wouldn’t give her a second look if she wasn’t rich. Lynn, however, has her hunk goggles on, and only sees a hustler with a hard body and a heart of gold. To be sure, this is potent material for 1950’s America. At that time, a man with a gold digging woman on his arm was de rigueur – but a woman with a gold digging man?! That was, and is still, a rarity. In many ways, Crawford was ahead of the curve.
As the story progresses, Lynn discovers Eloise Crandall’s diary (the previous tenant of the beach house, the one who took the dive off of her balcony). Lynn reads Eloise’s account of how Queenie and Osbert (aided by Drummy) fleeced her out of her money. Incensed by what she reads, Lynn negatively intensifies her tone toward all. The stage is now set for some of the most memorable one-liners in movie history, and Crawford delivers the goods with perfect pronunciation: “I’d like to ask you to stay and have a drink, but I’m afraid you might accept.” Lynn responds to this question: “Would you like us to leave?” She says, “As far as you’d like, another continent, preferably.” Lynn talks about Eloise’s impression of Drummy: “Her lover had the instincts of a stallion and the pride of an alley cat.” She continues, “You were made for your profession – all very nicely put together – nice to look at, nice to touch; the great god of the senses, sparkling on the beach. Until you realize that sewers empty into the ocean. I wouldn’t have you if you were hung with diamonds, upside down!”
Drummy, annoyed by Lynn’s verbal attack, decides to prove that she has him all wrong, so (of course) he decides to take her by force (yes, she slaps him, and fights, but she submits, because that rough stuff is a turn on, right?). Following their romp in the sand, Drummy (bastard that he is) doesn’t call. Pining for her man, Lynn turns to the bottle and there ensues a hilarious scene with her stumbling through the house. The ending of the movie is improbable, but neat and entertaining.
“Female on the Beach” is a vehicle that highlights Crawford’s willingness to participate in a mockery of her established film personae, her talent for high (and I mean high) melodrama, and (in this instance) her comedic ability – whether it was intended it or not, she’s hilarious in “Female on the Beach.” What some might not appreciate, though, is that it takes an extremely talented actor to make the most unlikely characters seem real – Crawford’s “Lynn Markham” was real.
(“Female on the Beach” has been posted on You Tube. I snagged a reasonably good copy from Yammering Magpie Cinema.)
Richie Williamson (June 2007)
Rating: of 5
In this movie, Joan Crawford has finally transformed into the gay man that she would eventually master in Johnny Guitar. Here we see her in every gay man's fantasy of the irresistibly available hunk at the beach: Her silly attempts at playing hard to get, get her got and that scene on the boat where she serves drinks and other one-liners -- we know what "going below deck" really means here. Her paranoia over the diary in the fireplace adds reams to the suspense and we culminate in a dramatic climax (and I use that term loosely) where the hunk and the she-male live happily ever after.
I give it a 5 Star rating in the High Camp Genre -- you have to see it to believe it!
Above: US lobby cards. Below: UK lobby cards.
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