Directed by: Curtis Bernhardt | 108 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks, Stanley Ridges, John Ridgeley, Moroni Olsen, Erskine Sanford, Peter Miles, Jakob Gimpel, Isabel Withers, Lisa Golm, Douglas Kennedy, Monte Blue, Don McGuire, Rory Mallinson
Although she had appeared in films since the late 1920s and became one of Hollywood’s foremost leading ladies from the 1930s, Joan Crawford did not receive the artistic appreciation she craved until later in life. Of course there was her first – and only – Oscar, for ‘Mildred Pierce’ (1945) – La Crawford was already forty by then. That film showed that she was indeed more than a pretty face and could also handle heavier roles. Her second Oscar nomination followed just two years later, for ‘Possessed’ (1947), a kind of reversed film noir, in which not a tormented man but a tormented woman is central and in which the femme fatale has been exchanged for a homme fatale. In ‘Possessed’ the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud plays a role and that was quite progressive for that time, because Freud’s method was not really applied on a large scale yet. To best prepare for her role, Joan Crawford visited numerous psychiatric clinics where she spoke with doctors and patients.
Crawford plays Louise, who is found deeply confused in a town where she is not at home. All she can get out is the name David. In the psychiatric hospital, a doctor manages to calm her down and also gets her to dig into her memory to tell what happened. Louise works as a nurse for a rich but mentally confused woman. However, her attention is mainly absorbed by her fatal passion for David (Van Heflin), an engineer who has been clear to her from the start that a serious relationship will never be possible. But Louise remains hopeful that he will come back to her. In any case, he keeps coming back into her life, just as she has decided to forget him. Out of sheer desperation, she then marries Dean Graham (Raymond Massey), the husband of the woman she cared for, who is now a widower. He would like to start a new life with her, but she cannot commit herself fully to it. Dean is friends with David, so he keeps coming over even if they move to another city. And then there’s Carol (Geraldine Brooks), Dean’s 20-year-old daughter who sees Louise as an intruder who wants to take over her mother’s life. When David hooks up with the handsome Carol, Louise seriously breaks down.
While the role of Louise Howell is rightly regarded as one of the best in Crawford’s career, there is quite a bit to criticize about the actress’ approach. It’s too unbalanced. She alternates strong, subtle moments, in which the madness can be read in her eyes, with overweight positions (shaking her head, rubbing her temples showy). But it can be called absolutely brave of Crawford that she went full for this role. Probably contributed to the fact that her rival Bette Davis would initially crawl into nurse Louise’s house, but dropped out because she went on maternity leave. Crawford was the first to seize the opportunity. The fact that she has prepared so intensively has certainly paid off in this case. As befits a diva, the film largely revolves around her, although she gets excellent support from Heflin, Brooks and especially Massey, who slowly gains our sympathy, while other characters seem to lose it. The way in which psychiatrists are portrayed is dated (of course people weren’t that familiar with the profession yet), we just have to see through that. The dialogues aren’t too strong either. Fortunately, the scenes where we are drawn into Louise’s craziness make up for it.