Woman’s Face, A (1941)

“You felt reborn: after all your agony, life was beginning anew.”

Synopsis:
A scarred, bitter woman (Joan Crawford) falls in love with a sociopathic blackmailer (Conrad Veidt), whose plot to kill his young nephew (Richard Nichols) involves asking Crawford to pose as his governess. When a kind plastic surgeon (Melvyn Douglas) successfully heals Crawford’s face, however, she finds herself beginning to question her bleak outlook on life — and her commitment to Veidt’s nefarious plan.

Genres:

Review:
Made several years before her Oscar-winning turn in Mildred Pierce (1945), this remake of a 1938 Swedish film (starring Ingrid Bergman) provided Joan Crawford with one of her best cinematic roles. As the bitterly scarred Anna Holm, Crawford — thanks in large part to George Cukor’s steady direction — successfully avoids histrionics or melodrama, instead convincingly showing us the depth of Anna’s lifelong pain through subtle facial expressions. Even after her character’s successful surgery, for instance, Crawford continues to act as though half of her face is still hideously paralyzed; the effect is both realistic and haunting. Equally effective — albeit in a much campier fashion (!) — is Conrad Veidt as Anna’s partner in crime and love, a sociopath who is genuinely able to see beyond Anna’s face, yet who ultimately demands far too much from her grateful loyalty. The story itself — framed as a courtroom flashback — runs for perhaps a bit too long, but there are several tense, exciting moments along the way, and we’re kept in suspense the entire time about whether or not Anna really is guilty of murder.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Crawford as Anna Holm
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  • Conrad Veidt as Anna’s duplicitous lover, Torsten Barring
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  • The well-edited scene in which Anna’s surgery results are revealed for the first time
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  • Robert Planck’s b&w cinematography
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Must See?
Yes, as one of Crawford’s notable performances.

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One Response to “Woman’s Face, A (1941)”

  1. Yes, a must for Crawford’s wonderfully controlled performance. (She’s almost the only reason for seeing it – although she is ably assisted by a very naturally suave Douglas, Veidt’s slimeball act, and Planck’s terrific camerawork.)

    I do likes me some hokum – and this sure is it, pretty much served in high style! Contrived to the max (I take it you’ve read the synopsis), it’s an odd hybrid of woman’s picture/melodrama/film noir, with a soupcon of comedy.

    Crawford does manage to side-step the bulk of the melodrama at just about every turn with her ability to ground her Anna firmly in reality. I don’t recall if he teamed with Crawford again but, with her here, Douglas is daring, dashing and sexy. And Veidt: you may feel dirty after watching him, and in need of a shower.

    The supporting cast are not as lucky with their effect. Perhaps feeling the need for a balance in the film, Cukor has them pushing the lighter touches of the script to the point where they remind one of community theater acting. Cukor does the film better service with the “steady” hand he lends to the drama, even accomplishing some genuine tension and suspense.

    Fave scene: Crawford slaps Douglas’ wife (Osa Massen) silly. Watching her in this moment puts me in mind of Crawford’s cameo appearance in Doris Day’s ‘It’s A Great Feeling’ (1949) – in which, after slapping someone, Crawford cheerfully remarks, “I do that in all my pictures!”

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