“No man’s born ready for marriage; he has to be trained.”
Domineering housewife Harriet Craig (Joan Crawford) lies to her unsuspecting husband (Wendell Corey) and treats her faithful cousin Celia (K.T. Stevens) like a personal secretary; but when Harriet interferes with her husband’s chance for promotion — and Celia’s chance for marriage with a well-meaning suitor (William Bishop) — she’s finally called on her lies and manipulating tactics.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Character Studies
- Henpecked Husbands
- Joan Crawford Films
- Play Adaptations
- Wendell Corey Films
Harriet Craig is the third cinematic adaptation of George Kelly’s 1925 stage play Craig’s Wife — filmed first in 1928 by William C. de Mille, and then in 1936 by Dorothy Arzner — and is one of many vehicles in which Crawford essentially plays a version of herself. In this case, she’s a neurotic, manipulative woman who uses others for her own needs, and cares more about maintaining a perfect house than promoting the happiness of its inhabitants (anyone who’s read Christina Crawford’s memoir Mommie Dearest, or seen the movie version, will immediately recognize shades of Joan in Harriet). The story itself, unfortunately, is less convincing: while it’s hinted that Harriet’s sway over her husband (Corey is perfectly cast) is primarily sexual, it’s still tough to imagine that he would remain deluded about her pathological tendencies for so many years; and his shift from adoration to contempt is far too sudden. Similarly, Celia’s blind devotion to Harriet — despite whatever favors Harriet did for her years earlier — beggars belief; and Harriet’s desire for status and wealth is at odds with how desperately she tries to prevent her husband’s promotion. Despite its narrative flaws, however, Harriet Craig remains worth a look simply for its status as a prototypical Crawford flick.
Note: A more apt title for the film would perhaps be Harriet’s House — indeed, the house itself is a central character.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Joan Crawford as Harriet (check out the flame lapels)
- Wendell Corey as Walter
- Allyn Joslyn as Walter’s friend Billy
- A disturbing portrait of a housewife whose need for control jeopardizes her marriage
No, but it’s certainly worth a look.