A Woman's Face Reviews
The story of a woman twisted by her physically appearance (and evident scaring on her left cheek) & then her transformation to normalcy & the good & negative consequences of this.
The idea is strong but the film fails to pull it off & many scenes you find yourself very uninterested.
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.')
Also, for some reason, Melvyn Douglas was really reminding me of Glenn Beck. Something about his posture or chin or voice. Not sure. This weird thing may have made the film more enjoyable for me.
Anyway, I totally recommend this. There is absolutely no sneer like a Joan Crawford sneer. And there's a great slapping scene. And a shooting scene--in a fur coat, no less. Love it.
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!
When weighing Crawford's performance in A Woman's Face against her Oscar-winning one in Mildred Pierce, she gave great performances in each despite Mildred Pierce being a lesser film, nevertheless in this brooding film, she is more effectual in her self-discipline, which was one thing she had that Bette Davis didn't. Her character's internal wounds emerging through her communicative and incidentally beautiful eyes and crushed gaze. (In spite of her character's horrendous disfigurement, she remains tremendously beautiful.) Seeing the scene in which her disfigured face is shown for the first time when she takes her hat off, as if she were expecting a reaction of horror from Veidt, and absorbing the true sorrow in her eyes and lips which, pertaining to her character, shows accidentally her cynical notions, the real actress owes the reality of her portrayal's nuances to her own chaotic personality.
There is a share of comparatively sluggish conformity that Cukor occasionally allows to peek around the corner, such as the oft-used device of telling the story through flashbacks from a courtroom of assorted caricatures, lending to its stock usage of Melvin Douglas, as per his usual, delivering a likable performance as a dashing good guy. robe the criminality allowed in a 1941 film. Crawford goes to Conrad Veidt, who by this time in the story temporarily lost touch with her, and he in a roundabout way tells her that his very old, very wealthy uncle is leaving everything to his four-year-old grandson, although if something happens to the child, Veidt himself will become heir to everything. The concept is then initiated, as Crawford poses as a new governess for the boy, who Cukor ruthlessly presents as one of the most adorable little kids in the history of movies.
This intriguing stranger of a movie is film noir that, in the face of its obedience to convention, rises above said genre by unfolding with sympathy and hope. Film noir, done right anyway, is unyielding and severe. Film noir illustrates the soul of nature inside, the unwitting impulses of the characters, their material depths, jealousy, greed, resentment, deceit, and all known vices of the unaware, which can show in two ways, a beautiful way and an evil way. The film's central character is a misunderstood woman in the halfway point of a blackmail mob and as a result living on the underside of a world that has rejected her, hence it has to be measured as such. Cukor utilizes simplicity in his manipulation of the film's world through her mind's eye, employing lighting, things positioned on the scarred side of her face, tossing a shard of light on top of her open eye after an operation and other such subtleties. The suspense is fluent, we want to see her unwrap the gauze, in many respects, and that uncomplicated idea steers the whole film. This is my first Cukor film, and I see that he is a very able director. His production values in 1941 are comparable to today's. The film's music score is, save for the conventional closing, very effective and not at all trite.