Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Straight-Jacket Inspired Top Ten

This episode of Tuesday Top Ten is accidentally sponsored by Final Girl's Film Club

I'm a day late to this blog event but as a Crawford Fan (capital intended), my actressexual guilt forced me into caboose position here. I had to watch Straight Jacket all the way through and chime in even if I didn't really have the time.


Joan Crawford stars as Lucy Harbin, a woman who axed her philandering husband and his lover to death in a crime of passion. Cut to twenty years later and Lucy is released from the asylum and returns home to live with her now grown daughter (who had witnessed the murders). Is Lucy still insane? Hallucinations, mood swings, high speed knitting, dressing room breakdowns and attempts to seduce her daughter's fiance suggest that she's not exactly a picture of mental health. But is she still... (gasp) an axe murderer? Decapitated bodies start piling up.

Unsurprisingly, despite it's "bad movie we love" status, Crawford is terrific in the picture. But then she was always ahead of her material or, perhaps stated more accurately, ferociously committed to it no matter what it happened to be. It's this same steel and conviction that sometimes read as scary and stiff (and probably encouraged her mass dismissal later on once Mommie Dearest came around to mess with her legacy) It's also a key reason why she was so perfect for the surprise third (fourth?) act in her career in grotesques like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Berserk! and Straight Jacket. She was a crucial force in the decade-long run of the Grand Guignol horror film, a fad that gave plum opportunities to aging actresses if they were willing to let themselves go (emotionally and physically) onscreen.

I'd love to see this genre have a revival wouldn't you? But not with remakes! Why make another Baby Jane? for example. Part of the whole fun of this type of thing is seeing how inventively deranged a plot or a part can get. If you know the bloody situation and the feminine psychosis from other movies, where's the sick surprise and the (meat) hook?

10 Actresses Who Should Star in Grand Guignol Films

...minus Glenn Close, who's been playing gargoyles for years even without the excuse of genre. I also limited my selections to anybody 50 or under because you really have to have mileage on you. I'm intrigued by the idea of Jennifer Tilly in one of these type of pictures, with her ability to deliver a serious performance that also has stylized comic beats (see Bound) but she's still too young / young-seeming, even at 50.

10 Lesley Ann Warren (62) The way I see it the Grand Guignol is basically the Quentin Tarantino of curio genres, offering second chances to forgotten or dusty film stars. With the right director and screenplay, Warren --who often played girlish sexual women -- might curdle in interesting ways.

09 Cher (62) Admit it. You want to see her in a movie again. Bonus points if Eric Stoltz, Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci appear as her troubled, concerned or abusive brood.

08 Dianne Wiest (60) Because she can do anything superbly.

07 Ronee Blakley (63) Only because her meltdown in Nashville (1975) is one of the most honest, idiosyncratic and riveting implosions I've ever seen onscreen. She hasn't acted in 20 years and if this genre can resurrect people...

06 Kathleen Turner (54) provided she played it straighter than her Serial Mom triumph. Turner is a bawdy and game gal. With the right director...

05 Debra Winger (53) I adore the documentary Searching For Debra Winger in both real and satiric ways. Wouldn't it be a hoot to fictionalize it / horrorize (word!) it and send a troupe of unsuspecting actress sycophants to her creepy self-isolating mansion in wherever. What they find might be shocking. We all know that Winger excels at buried fury (think of all those sexy/angry 80s lead roles) and layered subtext-ridden detachment (Go see Rachel Getting Married now)

04 Jane Fonda (71) Her last Oscar nomination, 22 years ago with The Morning After (1986), was born from the mainstream thriller genre. Since then she's barely acted wasting her enormous dramatic gift. Wouldn't it be a thrill to see her dishevelled and masochistic again: They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Redux!

03 Sally Kirkland (67) She fought for and won a welcome Oscar nomination way back in 1987 when "campaigning" for awards wasn't as corporatized as it now is. The film was Anna a character study about a despairing actress past her prime. Kirkland is probably in on the red carpet joke that she's been selling/making of herself for years but it's sad that another role as good as "Anna" never materialized. That moment when she watches the celluloid melt remains one of my most vivid memories from my nascent days of cinephilia.

02 Piper Laurie (76) I'm just gonna say it: I thought she was a-w-f-u-l in Dead Girl (2006), whilst basically reprising her Carrie role. Still... 32 years after Carrie her monster mother with blood-curdlingly funny sexual/religious baggage is still an unequalled master class in wacko grand guignol. It begs to be reprised (with a twist) if the genre is ever reborn. I'd give her that second shot at sequelizing herself.



01 Sharon Stone (50) For my number one choice I'm breaking the age rule. Or am I? You just know Sharon started lying about her age when she was 20: Ambitious girls think ahead! Stone is exactly the kind of frozen-in-time movie queen that this genre likes to thaw in order to take an axe an ice pick to what remains.
*

15 comments:

Stacie Ponder said...

YES to Lesley Ann Warren!

I'd also love to see Linda Gray in one of these flicks...although she might be simply too glamorous to really hag it out properly.

Dame James Henry said...

Faye Dunaway would also be perfect in one of these roles. And the poor woman hasn't had a great role (that I've seen, anyways) since Mommie Dearest. And if only Ronee Blakley would come out of her self-imposed retirement and act for us again. Her Barbara Jean is in my Top 10 favorite performances of all time and I agree wholeheartedly about that scarily real breakdown.

NATHANIEL R said...

But isn't Faye kind of viewed this way already?

I did think about her though, yes.

lot of people i had to leave off here ;)

i also meant to give a shout out to Judi Dench who gives basically one of these style of performances --only more naturalistically -- in NOTES...

is that so wrong? said...

Not to mention that Piper Laurie repeatedly stole the show in Twin Peaks as a mild-mannered megalomaniac. And to boot, she's the only one out of the entire show (in terms of Twin Peaks's story, that is) who ends up on top. I'll watch her in anything.

Luigi De Angelis S. said...

This topic is very interesting... All the choices are great.
I would like to watch in this kind of stuff actresses like Jane Alexander, Anjelica Huston, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, Gena Rowlands, Cathy Moriarty and Lorraine Bracco.

NATHANIEL R said...

ooh good choices. I didn't even think of some of them though Moriarty crossed my mind.

D said...

Jessica Walter and Kelly Bishop. Together, preferably.

Luigi De Angelis S. said...

Man... this is one of your best top 10s ever.
There are other ladies in my mind like Carol Kane, Sissy Spacek, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Diane Ladd and Amy Irving

alex said...

Great list!

Sidenote: I would see Rachel Getting Married right this second, but it isn't coming out here until the 17th - hooray for living in flyover land.

dusty said...

Ronee Blakely! OMG! Why aren't I listening to my Nashville soundtrack RIGHT NOW?

And while we're on the subject of Altman's masterpiece, how's about we add Lily Tomlin and Shelley Duvall to the list?

Erich Kuersten said...

wow! a genius jim dandy of a list... Joan IS great in Strait-Jacket, and is also good in a smaller role in Castle's I SAW WHAT YOU DID.

Cluster Funk said...

I think Sharon Stone already is playing the Grand Guignol part in real life. Talk about batshit c-r-a-z-y.

Cluster Funk said...

P.S. Shelley Duvall -- yes, please! Or how about Stockard Channing?

Anonymous said...

Straightjacket!!!1 Thank you for this post, I saw this movie on tv (B&W) when I was a child and it was scary! I never knew the name of it until now and I hold my older brother responsible for letting me stay up late and watch something that gave me nightmares for years!

NATHANIEL R said...

anon you're welcome. i can't imagine seeing this as a kid. it woulda scared the hell out of me. i don't like seeing axes swung at people.

no sireee

cluster good call on stockard channing. i should've had her here.