Craig’s Wife (1936): Arzner’s Favorite Film, Starring Rosalind Russell

In Craig’s Wife, Dorothy Arzner’s personal favorite film, she explores the debilitating effects of the nuclear family on women, focusing on one imperious woman, Harriet Craig.

The film, which still feels like a play, centers on twenty-four hours in the life of Harriet Craig and the home life she has created for herself and her husband. Harriet values material things more than her husband and goes to great lengths to protect her life as she has created it, regardless of what the outcomes are to those around her.

Harriet will do anything to preserve her home, which she keeps like a listless museum utterly shielded from outside reality.

Mary C. McCall’s scenario is based on George Kelly (Grace Kelly’s uncle), Pulitzer Prize-winning play of 1926, which ran for 360 performances on Broadway.

This was the second screen version of the play, which was first made in 1928, with Warner Baxter as Walter Craig and Irene Rich as his shrewish wife.

A grim, devastating critique of bourgeois, patriarchal culture, the movie features the young Rosalind Russell (only 28) in a heartbreaking, tour de force performance as an obsessive woman, who cares more about maintaining a spotless home than enjoying the love of her husband (John Boles), who adores her.
In her first important screen role, Russell plays a woman who’s so desperate for material security that she is willing to give up anything else.
A compelling character study of a shrewish wife, influenced by her memories of her mother, who manages to alienate all those around her, including her neighbors, her housekeeper and the servants.

The story’s message is stated by Craig’s housekeeper, Mrs. Harold (Jane Darwell), who says, “Those who live for themselves, are left to themselves,” as one by one, all her family and servants abandon her, leaving her entirely on her own.

Arzner, the only female director during the studio era, felt that this picture definitely needed a woman’s touch: “This picture is typically a woman’s picture. Its entire premise is feminine psychology. It takes a woman to interpret it properly.”

Years later, Arzner recalled about working with Harry Cohn, head of Columbia: “The Problem was that men saw Harriet Craig as a SOB and Cohn, like everyone else those days, wanted his heroines to be virginal and sweet.”
In 1950, Joan Crawford essayed the role in a new version, simply called “Harriet Craig.”

Credits:

Black-and-white
Running time: 73 Minutes

Cast

Rosalind Russell as Harriet Craig

John Boles as Walter Craig

Billie Burke as Mrs. Frazie

Jane Darwell as Mrs. Harold

Dorothy Wilson as Ethel Landret

Alma Kruger as Ellen Auste

Thomas Mitchell as Fergus Passmore

Raymond Walburn as Billy Birkmir

Elisabeth Risdon as Mrs. Landret

Robert Allen as Gene Frederick

Nydia Westman as Mazi

Kathleen Burke as Adelaide Passmore

George Offerman, Jr. as Tom