Sunday, August 17, 2008

Possessed (1931)

Possessed, with it's pre-code feminist script, swanky sets, slick direction and upper-echelon star power, is a quintessential early '30s MGM film (A Free Soul, starring Norma Shearer and Gable, from the same year, is another contender). It's escapist melodrama with just enough realism to keep from descending into absurdity.

The plot is a rubber-stamped depression-era fantasy made for its target audience: small-town factory worker Joan Crawford leaves for the big city determined to use whatever assets she has to live the high life, becomes a mistress to powerful man-about-town Clark've seen this before, haven't you?

What's enjoyable about Possessed is seeing two of Hollywood's biggest stars in their prime, Gable in a new sort of male role for the time, an anti-hero, and Crawford, who MGM considered "the personification of youth and beauty and joy and happiness", before she mutated into something other. Those familiar with Crawford's background will realize she's practically playing herself here.

Noteworthy, too, is "Skeets" Gallagher, playing a perpetually inebriated dandy, whose ritzy living quarters and whimsical demeanor must have represented the height of freedom for audiences in 1931.

Clarence Brown's directing doesn't have the sort of dreamy look he excelled in earlier in his career, in films like The Flesh and the Devil, but it's perfectly fine, and benefits from some on-location shooting in the opening scenes.

Possessed has been released on Warner Archives DVD-R.

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