Flamingo Road (1949)

“I’m not running! Do you understand that?”

Synopsis:
A carnival dancer (Joan Crawford) falls for the sheriff (Zachary Scott) of a small town ruled by a corrupt politician (Sydney Greenstreet), who plans to make Scott puppet-governor of the state, and will stop at nothing to prevent his relationship with Crawford from flourishing. Soon Lane (Crawford) becomes romantically involved with another politician (David Brian), but continues to find herself butting heads with Greenstreet.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that despite its “pat” ending, this Joan Crawford flick “is well directed by Michael Curtiz, has a solid group of characters, and, probably more than any straight drama up until then (All the King’s Men was also released in 1949), paints a realistic portrait of political corruption in America.” He argues that “Crawford is much better than in Mildred Pierce, giving a deeply felt, multi-faceted characterization” as a woman who’s “smart, sincere, and stronger than any man in that she alone stands up to Greenstreet (playing one of his most memorable villains)”. While I enjoyed Crawford’s low-key, Oscar-winning performance as Mildred Pierce, I’ll agree that she’s just as effective — and even more enjoyably feisty — here, giving one of her best later-career performances (she’s 43, but — naturally – looks great as the central love interest). Meanwhile, Greenstreet is indeed “memorable”, playing a truly “larger than life” man so confident in his abilities to exert a corrupting influence that he barely blinks an eye when setting his next plan into action. Curtiz’s direction — assisted by Ted McCord’s fine cinematography — adds a noir-ish yet Gothic tinge to the proceedings, turning this melodrama into an appropriately cynical look at the corruption seemingly lurking in small towns everywhere.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Crawford as Lane Bellamy (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Sydney Greenstreet as Titus Semple
  • Solid direction and cinematography by Michael Curtiz and DP Ted McCord

Must See?
Yes, simply to see Crawford in one of her best later-life roles.

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One Response to “Flamingo Road (1949)”

  1. Must-see.

    When it comes to classic ’40s cinema, this is the hot stuff: taut and tawdry, as sharp as most of its crisp black-and-white camerawork; as twisted as much of its juicy dialogue. All that and Joan Crawford too.

    I’ve seen this a number of times and it just keeps giving – it always manages to pull me in from the start. There’s a lot of slime oozing through this economic, political potboiler – making it just as relevant as our recent presidential campaign. It’s full of who does what to get what, who does what to get whom, and who does what to get even. There’s even a cold, social-climbing bitch (no, that’s not Joan; not this time). In fact, you may start to wonder what kind of wacko town you’re in here – when its best citizens are on the bottom rungs (i.e., a waitress, a servant, a madam – but what a madam!; Gladys George in a sterling supporting role).

    Under Curtiz’s standard slick direction, a whole lot goes on so fast that one viewing may not be enough to catch all of the mechanics of the weasel behavior afoot. All the more reason to enjoy it thoroughly a second or third time.

    You have to hand it to Crawford – she’s a knockout as Lane (even if a tad mature to be a carnival dancer, she makes you buy it). It’s fascinating to see a character like hers take such immediate control over her endangered existence – and go mano-a-mano with someone as formidable (to say the least) as Greenstreet. He is hell on wheels (and, if he were literally on wheels, he would be even scarier).

    Fave Crawford line: “Sometimes a nice guy comes along and even the things he says don’t sound the way they did when somebody else said them.” (Huh?)

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