“Lucy Harbin took an axe, gave her husband forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done, she gave his girlfriend forty-one!”
Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford) has spent twenty years in an insane asylum for murdering her husband (Lee Majors) and his girlfriend (Patricia Crest) in a fit of jealous rage. When she returns home, her estranged daughter (Diane Baker) tries to conceal her mother’s past from her soon-to-be in-laws (Edith Atwater and Howard St. John), but a mysterious rash of murders makes this increasingly difficult.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Joan Crawford Films
- Mental Illness
- William Castle Films
William Castle’s Psycho-esque slasher flick, starring Joan Crawford in one of her last great roles, is undeniably campy, yet contains a surprising amount of atmosphere and thrills. Crawford — who gives 110 percent, as always — is compulsively watchable, and elicits both genuine sympathy and fear, as she shifts smoothly from axe-wielding hysterics to insecure neurotics. Equally impressive is Diane Baker as Crawford’s daughter, whose desperate desire to pursue a “normal” life with her fiance-to-be (John Anthony Hayes) causes her to apply some seriously dangerous denial tactics. As in Psycho, the final plot twist in Strait-Jacket is guaranteed to come as a surprise, and places the characters’ previous actions in an entirely different light.
Note: Crawford apparently maintained creative control over nearly every aspect of the movie, including the script (by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho) and casting (Baker was brought on at the last minute as a replacement, while Crawford promised the role of Lucy’s doctor to a member of the Pepsi-Cola board — Mitchell Cox — with zero film experience).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Joan Crawford as the unpredictable yet oddly sympathetic axe murderess
- Crawford lighting a match off of a spinning jazz record
- Beautiful Diane Baker as Lucy’s loyal daughter
- Some genuinely scary moments
- A surprising twist ending
Yes. This camp classic is a definitive entry in Crawford’s late-life movie career, and should be seen by all film fanatics.