Warner Archive Collection is a treasure trove for classic movie buffs and cinephiles, and the recent Blu-ray release of the Joan Crawford classic Possessed is another gem worth grabbing.
Crawford earned an Oscar nomination as Louise Howell Graham, a wealthy woman blessed with a devoted husband (Raymond Massey) and a kindhearted stepdaughter (Geraldine Brooks). But money and privilege doesn’t always buy happiness, as Louise wanders the streets of downtown Los Angeles asking a trolley car conductor for a man named “David.”
It’s dawn in the City of Angels, and a disheveled, disoriented Louise is taken to the local hospital for treatment. While she lies in a mainly catatonic state, we delve into the events leading up to her inevitable tragedy.
Louise is madly in love with David (Van Heflin), a construction engineer whose womanizing tendencies doesn’t fit well with any kind of commitment. When Louise pushes David for a deeper kind of union, he breaks it off, leaving her in a permanent form of distress and bitterness.
She initially spends her days a caretaker and nurse to Dean Graham’s (Raymond Massey) sick wife, but after the woman drowns herself, Dean rebounds from his wife’s death and ask Louise’s hand in marriage.
Still not over her break-up with David, Louise’s stress level reaches new heights after he lands a job working for her husband and gets romantically involved with her stepdaughter (Geraldine Brooks).
With a running time of 108 minutes, there’s a ton of narrative to cover with Possessed, and the movie’s bread and butter lies in the solid performances from Crawford and Van Heflin. Louise and David’s incessant verbal warfare gives this film noir its proper edge. Though David’s devil may care attitude has kept him young and vital in his thirties, he has no idea Louise is a schizophrenic, and their final encounter leads to one of film noir’s most memorable (and gorgeously cinematic) moments.
Credit also goes to Curtis Bernhardt (he also directed the stellar flicks Conflict and The High Wall) and cinematographer Joseph Valentine for infusing this suburbia gone wrong drama with a haunting and compellingly atmospheric tone.
For fans who are in love with camera placement and visual design, there’s several, virtuosic point of view shots that places us in the mind and motivations of Louise’s character. Franz Waxman, whose composing work includes A Place in the Sun and Sunset Boulevard, delivers the appropriately spellbinding score.
It’s a stunningly photographed and beautifully acted piece, and if you’re a film noir enthusiast or initiate, I’d also recommend checking out the Blu-ray’s special features:
Featurette Possessed: The Quintessential Film Noir – Running over nine minutes, this segment contains interviews with film noir experts/authors/historians Dr. Drew Casper, Eddie Muller, James Ursini, and Glenn Erickson. The featurette gives viewers a primer on the noir genre as seen through the eyes and impact of Possessed.
Commentary by Film Historian Drew Casper – Although both the commentary and featurette were made back in 2005 for a Bette Davis/Joan Crawford DVD collection, both special features contain evergreen material. The Possessed commentary gives viewers a Film 101 lesson on film noir’s influence and history, and an enthusiastic Casper (who’s also a USC professor) is an absolute expert in the field, as he delves into Possessed’s cinematography and themes. He also details how German Expressionism served as an invaluable element of film noir’s fabric.
Possessed is a Manufactured on Demand title. To order Possessed, please go to the Warner Archive Collection site.
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Sylvia Richards & Ranald MacDougall – based on the novelette One Man’s Secret by Rita Weiman
Actors: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks
Running Time: 108 minutes
Released: Warner Brothers, May 29, 1947