A Woman's Face Reviews
From the beginning we know that Crawford is the murderer but we don't know who she murdered, or why. She again manages to make a rather hardened, bitter, and potentially murderous woman quite sympathetic. However, in this film she is the lesser of two evils, with Conrad Veidt being typecast as his usual nefararious character.
There are excellent performances by Melvyn Douglas, as the plastic surgeon; Osa Massen as the scheming maid, and Donald Meek and Reginald Owen as Crawford's shady accomplices. I did not care for Albert Bassermann as the rich aged uncle or Richard Nichols who played his nephew; their demeanor was to silly and goofy. Director George Cukor creates some atmospheric moments, notably the gondola ride over the falls and the sled chase at the end. It's a very solid film, and once again the performances carry the day.
It's certainly not a great film. But like the vast majority of 1940s melodramas, it's been weirdly forgotten.
The first thing that hit me when it started was the unbelievably cheap sets. I don't know how Cukor tolerated cardboard sets. But I put that out of my mind and focused on the story, which was actually quite interesting.
A woman (Crawford) has a disfigured face resulting from a house fire that occurred when she was a child. The social and erotic ostracism she experienced because of the disfigurement has turned her soul black. She is just one step away from becoming a serial killer.
She meets her demonic equal (Veidt), and they team up to kill a five-year-old boy who stands in the way of Veidt inheriting a fortune. I kid you not; this story gets quite dark. There are other dimensions to the story that add some nice richness.
If not for the cheap sets and rancid B-movie music, "A Woman's Face" could have been a major film. The sequence where Crawford is on the verge of killing the child is unforgettable. Oh, and did I say the film is set in Sweden? Sweden, of all places. But all the dialogue is in English. Odd little movie.
(Just FYI -- Cukor doesn't have much name recognition these days, but he directed many famous movies, including 'My Fair Lady,' 'Adam's Rib,' 'Born Yesterday,' and the Judy Garland version of 'A Star is Born.')
But Anna Holm is a great character too and just as exciting to me.
Scarred physically as well as mentally, Anna takes her misfortunes out on the silly 'beautiful' women of the film with blackmail. It's not long before she is falling for the insidious charms of Conrad Veidt and is seduced into the worst of all crimes - the murder of a child. This poses a troubling flaw in her character (probably not intentional). You don't know till the end of the flic whether she carries out her heinous act or not (this being Hollywood you have a fair idea though!) but the fact that she, at least, considers it seriously is infinitely harder to forgive than her blackmail endeavours. It does add to your interest in Anna though - but at the same time you sympathize with her less. It's still a marvelous film and Crawford is great. Veidt, as usual, is wonderfully malevolent as the villain of the piece and their scenes together are eery and spellbinding (despite some dodgy dialogue) .
Many of the minor characters do a fine job too - I particularly liked Albert Bassermann's crusty old Consul and Ossa Massen is a delight as one of Crawford's 'silly' victims (Crawford gets to give her a good slapping). Melvyn Douglas, on the other hand, is only adequate. To me he seems to be in the wrong movie - his screwball and matinée idol pedigree doesn't ring true in such a dark and gothic tale.
It's surprisingly cinematic for a Cukor pic (As great as I think his films are, I do find them a little flat visually) - looking very noirish and gothic - especially the way Crawford is lighted. And it has a very exciting chase in the snow for a finale.
It has it's faults but they are few and minor. I defy you not to enjoy it!