Carnival dancer Lane Bellamy finds herself stranded in a southern town ruled by corrupt political boss Titus Semple. Lane becomes romantically involved with sheriff Fielding Carlisle, a weakling whose career is being driven by Titus.
Seeing Lane as a liability to his own political ambitions, Titus mounts a campaign to get her driven out of town. She finds she can't get a job and even gets arrested on a trumped-up morals charge. Released from jail, Lane finds work as a "hostess" at Lutie-Mae's road house, where she meets Dan Reynolds, another member of the town's political machine. They marry and move to a home on Flamingo Road, the town's social pinnacle.
Their marriage is soon marked by scandal when a drunken Carlisle visits Lane at home one evening and shoots himself.
Joan Crawford ... Lane Bellamy
Zachary Scott ... Fielding Carlisle
Sydney Greenstreet ... Sheriff Titus Semple
David Brian ... Dan Reynolds
Gladys George ... Lute Mae Sanders
Virginia Huston ... Annabelle Weldon
Fred Clark ... Doc Waterson
Gertrude Michael ... Millie
Alice White ... Gracie
Sam McDaniel ... Boatright
Tito Vuolo ... Pete Ladas
Like a dry Martini with just a tad too much vermouth, garnished with an olive that hasn't been washed of its brine, this one can leave a nasty taste if you're looking for something that goes down smoothly. But if you're not too fastidious, this Crawford star vehicle is almost ridiculously entertaining. Joan might have been just a little long in the tooth to be playing a hoochy-coochy carnival girl in the film's opening sequence but it isn't long before she's on her way up, constantly being tripped on that inexorable climb by one of the slimiest villains that Sydney Greenstreet ever played. Warners trowels on the class "A" production values (except for some glaring back projections at a construction site) and Michael Curtiz's direction is, as usual, briskly efficient, getting the best from everyone in the cast, principal and supporting players alike, except perhaps for Greenstreet who really doesn't look well at all and seems to be struggling against imminent collapse in some scenes. (He made only one picture after this one and died from complications of diabetes about five years later.)
Max Steiner contributes his usual melodically overwrought score (with heavy reliance on the popular song, "If I Could Be One Hour With You [Tonight]"), lushly orchestrated by Murray Cutter, under the musical direction of that Warners stalwart, Ray Heindorf. It's almost too distracting but the frequently crackling dialogue keeps the audience's attention focused on the pulpy proceedings. Ted McCord's black-and-white cinematography is an outstanding example of why not every picture should be in color and I suspect that it was Travilla who was given the task of gowning Crawford once she'd finally crossed over to the right side of the tracks. (Sheila O'Brien, also credited, probably ran up those nifty waitress uniforms and the prison garb Crawford gets to wear not once, but twice!)
They really, REALLY don't make 'em like this anymore, and thank goodness Turner Classic Movies, for instance, trundles a tasty morsel like this out of their archives every once in a while for us to savor once again.
Carnival girl Joan Crawford (looking pretty damn good for 45) settles in a small town. She falls in love with deputy sheriff Zachary Scott--but corrupt head sheriff Sydney Greenstreet wants her gone. He frames Crawford on prostitution and she's sent to jail. She gets out and is determined to get her revenge on Greenstreet...
The plot is kind of silly (and VERY rushed at the end) but I liked this movie. It's well-directed by Michael Curtiz and looks just beautiful--very elaborate. Warner Bros. obviously spent a lot of money on this one. When you get right down to it it's basically a soap opera--but a fun one!
Crawford gives one of her best performances. In reality she's too old for the role but she doesn't look it! You can't take your eyes off her when she's on screen. Scott is stuck with a colorless role. Also David Brian shows up as a politician and he's very good. And Gladys George shines as an owner of a "roadhouse". The big disappointment here is Greenstreet--he's just terrible! He's stone-faced throughout (he can't even register surprise in one crucial scene), looks very ill (but he was 70, overweight and diabetic) and slurs most of his dialogue which makes him appear drunk. He's very evil but his empty performance weighs the film down.
Still, worth seeing for Crawford alone. Easily one of her best.
Despite the noted critic Pauline Kael's unreasonably negative review of this film, it's a lot of fun and a good vehicle for Joan Crawford's talents. Kael described it as overwrought, but in truth it's good old-fashioned melodramatic story-telling with a smart, literate script, and refreshingly quick pacing. The only flaw that bothered me was a musical score that is, at times, laughably incongruous. (The music swells bewilderingly and ominously when Crawford benignly offers Reynolds' Political Boss something for his hangover.)
Sure, you can quarrel with the casting of Shakespearean-voiced Sydney Greenstreet playing a Southern Sheriff, but he's so unrepentently vile and villainous that he's convincing in every role he plays. It is a joy to watch two such formidable actors as Crawford and Greenstreet squaring off in big confrontations.
It's not surprising that, some 30 years later, this became the premise for a night-time soap opera starring, I believe, Morgan Fairchild. It has so many jealousies, manipulations, secret ambitions, double-crosses, plots for revenge - it's just great fun if one doesn't take it too seriously. And clearly, Crawford, Greenstreet, and the director, Michael Curtiz, didn't. They recognized the material for what it was - pulpy entertainment served up with wit and style.
* Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): Sheriff Titus Semple tells Fielding Carlisle to "get over to that girl's house and ask her to marry 'her'", instead of “marry you”.