I wonder why , after THE WOMEN and A WOMAN’S FACE , the films MGM gave JOAN CRAWFORD were much poorer – Susan And God, Above Suspicion, Strange Cargo, Ice Follies of 1939. Were they losing interest in one of their biggest stars?
Set in Sweden, “A Woman’s Face” is undoubtedly Joan Crawford’s film and I’m surprised it’s not her name alone above the title.
After proving she had no problem playing a conniving gold digger in “The Women”, Joan didn’t object to having one side of her face heavily disfigured for half of “A Woman’s Face”.
Joan plays ‘Anna Holm’ who, as a child, was severely burned in a fire started by her drunken father. One side of her face was badly burned and she feels shunned by society. She runs a roadhouse and takes her resentment and anger out by blackmailing beautiful rich women who come there.
I like the way the story unfolds, starting in a court in Sweden where Anna is standing trial for murder, though it is not immediately clear who she has murdered.
Each witness recounts their knowledge of Anna through flashbacks, starting with the three people who worked for her and helped in her various nefarious enterprises , Donald Meek, Reginald Bruce and Connie Gilchrist.
All the witnesses are told they must tell the truth .
Osa Massen, Melvyn Douglas, Donald Meek,Marjorie Main, Connie Gilchrist, Albert Basserman.
The film has a strong cast including Conrad Veidt as the evil and manipulative ‘Torsten Barring’ whom Anna meets one fateful night at her roadhouse.
Melvyn Douglas is Dr. Segert, the surgeon who performs surgery on Anna ,reclaiming her beauty and wondering what changes it will make in her.
Two photos showing the scarring.
Anna falls for Torsten Barring, mainly because he doesn’t make her feel less of a woman because of her disfigurement.
The Veidt character has a plan for ‘Anna’ after she falls under his spell. And the plan involves murder. She lets him know that blackmail is her profession. ”What sort of dirty work do you want me to do?”
For most of the first half of the film, Anna keeps the scarred side of her face covered. Reviewer Fernando F. Croce on IMDB describes her perfectly, “Crawford hides behind a slanted chapeau or a curtain of hair.”
Poor Osa Massen (1914-2006) plays Melvyn Douglas’s faithless wife. All she seems to do is whine throughout her scenes.
Dr. Segert, before the bandages are removed, says,
”If this operation’s a success, I’ve created a monster – a beautiful face and no heart.”
Great shot when Anna is able to look at herself in a mirror, in this case the huge mirror in the hallway leading to Barring’s apartment. With the reflection from the mirror on the opposite wall.
(Earlier, Donald Meek , at the roadhouse, has said, “Mirrors are verboten here.” )
Hard to recognise Marjorie Main as Emma, the housekeeper who is jealous of Anna’s attachment to her employer, Magnus Barring (Albert Basserman ) and the little boy, Lars-Erik who is heir to the Barring fortune.
Good to see Marjorie in such a different role from her usual type casting.
I rate 6 year old Richard Nichols as one of the most natural child actors I have ever seen. He’d melt anyone’s heart including the cold and calculating Miss Holm.
Richard left movies at the age of 12 and was a minister for 44 years. His other big movie was “All This And Heaven Too”, with Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.
A well edited, gripping scene involving Anna and Lars-Erik on a cable car. There’s a lot of back projection but it’s still suspenseful. And in case you haven’t guessed, the dastardly Barring wants Anna to ‘arrange’ an accident for Lars-Erik so Barring can inherit his uncle’s estate.
One of the minuses for me in the film is the sudden romance between Anna and Dr. Segert ( Crawford and Douglas.) It is woefully underwritten and makes no sense at all. When, at the end, Anna announces that she loves the doctor who has healed her scars, it comes as quite a surprise! (He’s left his wife.)
I’m a Melvyn Douglas fan but it’s not a great part for him. Conrad Veidt has much the better part as the smooth talking villain who uses Anna’s insecurities for his own ends.
I normally am not too keen on flashbacks ,but this film is so well constructed, all the flashbacks make sense.
The film has such a strong cast. Did I mention George Zucco and Henry Daniell as opposing lawyers at the trial. And the two trial judges are Robert Warwick and Henry Kolker.
I suppose the film could be described as high melodrama and for me it works. Joan Crawford deserved at least an Oscar nomination.
Coincidence: Within a couple of years George Cukor directed three films with similar titles – THE WOMEN, A WOMAN’S FACE and TWO FACED WOMAN. A pity the last one with Garbo didn’t match up to the first two.
First filmed in Sweden in 1938 and starring Ingrid Bergman, it would be interesting to compare the two.