Harriet Craig (1950): Sherman’s Melodrama, Starring Joan Crawford

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Vincent Sherman directed Harriet Craig a noir melodrma, starring Joan Crawford.

The screenplay by Anne Froelick and James Gunn was based upon the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1925 play Craig’s Wife, by George Kelly (Grace Kelly’s uncle).

Two previous film versions were both entitled Craig’s Wife, the first a 1928 silent film by William C. DeMille (Cecil B. DeMille’s brother), and the second a 1936 film directed by Dorothy Arzner and starring Rosalind Russell.

Harriet Craig is the second of three cinematic collaborations between Sherman and Crawford *who had an affair), the others being The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and Goodbye, My Fancy (1951).

Harriet Craig (Crawford) is a neurotic, manipulative, and controlling woman. She is obsessed with maintaining her ideal of perfection in the appearance of her home, her social life, and herself.

She seems to believe that those around her exist only to fulfill her ideal life. Achieving this goal makes life miserable for everyone around her. Harriet shares her home with her loving husband Walter (Wendell Corey), her orphaned and grateful cousin Clare (K. T. Stevens), and two maids—one of whom has worked at the house since Walter was a child.

Harriet and Walter do not have children; Harriet told Walter she is unable to conceive. Before marrying Walter and becoming the “lady” of his family’s home, Harriet had a difficult life which included a philandering father. This caused her to be hateful and distrustful of men.

Harriet is rude to the two maids and bullies the nervous one, eventually firing her and driving the other, the one who has been with Walter all his life, to quit.

She keeps Walter’s friends away from the home, including his best friend Billy Birkmire (Allyn Joslyn), and instead invites over stodgier, older couples whom she feels are more suited to her attitudes. When Clare falls in love with Walter’s co-worker, Wes Miller (William Bishop), Harriet puts an end to the romance with lies. When it appears Walter will receive a coveted work assignment that will require him to travel abroad without her, she sabotages the plans with a treacherous lie to his boss.

Eventually, everyone learns the truth about Harriet. Clare overhears Harriet admit to Walter that she lied to sabotage Clare’s relationship. As a result, Clare packs and leaves, as she would rather survive alone in the world than live with manipulative Harriet. Walter deduces that it was Harriet who convinced his boss to cancel his work assignment. As a reaction to this, and to the realization of what his life with Harriet has become, he symbolically throws off her control; he drinks straight liquor, makes himself comfortable on the pristine sofa and, when she refuses to come downstairs to discuss their situation, he intentionally smashes Harriet’s most beloved household possession—a priceless Ming vase that symbolizes her control and obsession with perfection. When Harriet finally admits to Walter that she lied about the long-term maid, lied to his boss, and has lied to him throughout their marriage about her inability to have children, he walks out, leaving Harriet alone with her one true love and the only thing that she can truly control—the house.

The supporting cast includes character actress Ellen Corby as a bullied maid. Corby later became widely known as Esther “Grandma” Walton on the popular TV series The Waltons for 7 seasons beginning in 1972.

Cast
Joan Crawford as Harriet Craig
Wendell Corey as Walter Craig
Lucile Watson as Celia Fenwick
Allyn Joslyn as Billy Birkmire
William Bishop as Wes Miller
K.T. Stevens as Clare Raymond
Viola Roache as Mrs. Harold
Raymond Greenleaf as Henry Fenwick
Ellen Corby as Lottie