“You felt reborn: after all your agony, life was beginning anew.”
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.
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
- Conrad Veidt as Anna’s duplicitous lover, Torsten Barring
- The well-edited scene in which Anna’s surgery results are revealed for the first time
- Robert Planck’s b&w cinematography
Yes, as one of Crawford’s notable performances.