Picked Flick #95: Possessed
There is much that is fascinating about Possessed, including the way it refuses to be written off as a crappy movie, even when the plot takes its serial nose-dives into purple implausibility, even when Franz Waxman indulges the most apoplectic arpeggios and electric-organ decrescendoes in the certifiably insane score. However ancient its notions of sciencethe title comes from Dr. Harvey Willard's expert opinion that Louise's schizoid persecution complex is one of many mental-health states that amounts to being "possessed by devils"there's a feral, almost involuntary conviction to the film's interest in psychic unease that you don't really find in The Snake Pit or The Three Faces of Eve or other, comparable voyages into the classical Hollywood booby-hatch. The form of the film convulses amidst its own insensible agonies, alternating amongst elegant lakeside establishing shots, harshly expressionist chiaroscuro effects, uneasy dissolves, and at least one handheld tracking shot from the point of view of a dead woman who may or may not be haunting Louise (who, in turn, may or may not have killed this woman). It's easy to cackle and shrug at Warner Bros. potboilers like this, and Possessed repeatedly earns the cackliest cackle you can manage: it's that crazy, and that much fun. But it also feels symptomatic of...something, and harshly sincere: the sour force of spurned passion and the suffocating pressure of obsessive lovers who won't go away have rarely been given such free rein. The violence they exact on the movie's formal discipline is a major part of why you remember the picture.
Well, that and the ecstatic wrongness of Crawford's pleas that the alcoholic musician-engineer-mathematician played by Heflin (!!) stop dodging her with his lovingly traced parabolas and his attempts to interest her in the complex calculus of steel girders. "Why don't you love me like that?" she barks. "I'm much nicer than the girder, and a lot more interesting." Joan, never a truer word was said. (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)