Flamingo Road (1949)

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Cinematography Ted D. McCord

Plot

Lane Bellamy is a carnival dancer stranded in the small town of Boldon City in the Southern United States. She becomes romantically involved with Fielding Carlisle, a deputy sheriff whose career is controlled by Sheriff Titus Semple, a corrupt political boss who runs the town. Semple dislikes Bellamy and mounts a campaign against her. She has difficulty finding work and is arrested on a trumped-up morality charge. Meanwhile, Carlisle is the political machine‘s choice for state senator, and to portray the perfect political family, he marries his long-time girlfriend, Annabelle Weldon.

Sad that the love of her life has divorced himself from her, Bellamy finds work as a hostess at a roadhouse run by Lute Mae Sanders. There, she meets Dan Reynolds, a businessman who supports the corrupt Semple so long as it is profitable. She charms Reynolds into marrying her and the couple moves to the town’s best neighborhood, Flamingo Road.

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As a kingmaker in the state, Semple decides to run Carlisle for governor and unseat the incumbent. This is too much even for Reynolds and now he decides to oppose Semple. When Carlisle, who has a weakness for drink, also begins to show his limits in cooperating with Semple, Semple flies into a rage and abandons him, destroying Carlisle’s career. Then Semple makes himself the candidate. At this, Reynolds grows stronger in his opposition. So Semple arranges to have Reynolds framed.

Later a drunken Carlisle, who knows what’s happening but feels the situation is hopeless, visits the mansion on Flamingo Road and commits suicide practically in front of Bellamy. This gives Semple another weapon in his bid to ruin Bellamy and husband, who has now been indicted for graft. Bellamy confronts Semple with a gun and demands he phone the attorney general and confess everything, but a physical struggle ensues and she shoots him dead. At the end, Bellamy is in prison awaiting a ruling and Reynolds indicates he will stick by her.

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The Road to Ruin is paved with good actors

10 October 2002 | by funkyfry (Oakland CA) – See all my reviews

Over the top melodrama that works, under the steady direction of Curtiz. Crawford is an ex-carnie, and Greenstreet is the corrupt sherrif of a small town she’s chosen as her haven. He gets her boyfriend to desert her for a more respectable marriage so he can make him a senator, and after she marries a political player he’s associated with, he makes life hard on both of them with a combination of blackmail muscle and frame-up push. Greenstreet is wonderfully grotesque, and all the other leads also hold up well. Nice photography in stark toned B & W.

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Joan Crawford and Alice White in Flamingo Road (1949)

Perhaps, an acquired taste, but…

Author: Greg Couture from Portland, Oregon
7 November 2004

Like a dry Martini with just a tad too much vermouth, garnished with an olive that hasn’t been washed of its brine, this one can leave a nasty taste if you’re looking for something that goes down smoothly. But if you’re not too fastidious, this Crawford star vehicle is almost ridiculously entertaining. Joan might have been just a little long in the tooth to be playing a hoochy-coochy carnival girl in the film’s opening sequence but it isn’t long before she’s on her way up, constantly being tripped on that inexorable climb by one of the slimiest villains that Sydney Greenstreet ever played. Warners trowels on the class “A” production values (except for some glaring back projections at a construction site) and Michael Curtiz’s direction is, as usual, briskly efficient, getting the best from everyone in the cast, principal and supporting players alike, except perhaps for Greenstreet who really doesn’t look well at all and seems to be struggling against imminent collapse in some scenes. (He made only one picture after this one and died from complications of diabetes about five years later.)

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Max Steiner contributes his usual melodically overwrought score (with heavy reliance on the popular song, “If I Could Be One Hour With You [Tonight]”), lushly orchestrated by Murray Cutter, under the musical direction of that Warners stalwart, Ray Heindorf. It’s almost too distracting but the frequently crackling dialogue keeps the audience’s attention focused on the pulpy proceedings. Ted McCord’s black-and-white cinematography is an outstanding example of why not every picture should be in color and I suspect that it was Travilla who was given the task of gowning Crawford once she’d finally crossed over to the right side of the tracks. (Sheila O’Brien, also credited, probably ran up those nifty waitress uniforms and the prison garb Crawford gets to wear not once, but twice!)

They really, REALLY don’t make ’em like this anymore, and thank goodness Turner Classic Movies, for instance, trundles a tasty morsel like this out of their archives every once in a while for us to savor once again.

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Curtiz, Crawford reunite to rekindle Mildred Pierce by camping out on the South Coast.

7/10
Author: bmacv from Western New York
1 January 2005

Trying to pass off Joan Crawford, then heading toward her mid-’40s, as a plausible nautch-dancer in the side-show of an itinerant carnival proves a misstep from which Michael Curtiz’ Flamingo Road barely recovers. But, once the layers of accrued campiness that cling to it are peeled back (and once Crawford discards her Salome-like veils), the movie, far-fetched as it is, generates some interest.

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Owing to unpaid bills or some such, the traveling show, in which Crawford was a steamy if not entirely fresh attraction, blows town. Sheriff’s deputy Zachary Scott, sent across the tracks to make sure the whole unsavory business has packed up, finds only Crawford, listening to her radio in a mildewed tent. Sparks are struck; he invites her back to town for the blue-plate special in the local beanery and finagles a job for her there as a waitress.

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His superior, corrupt sheriff Sydney Greenstreet, sniffs out the burgeoning romance and vows to quash it; he has plans to run Scott for the senate of their anonymous Gulf state (its capital is Olympic City and its capitol a lovingly detailed piece of scenery painting), prerequisite to which is a proper marriage to a bona-fide local girl. Scott glumly acquiesces to the plan, drowning his doubts in drink (“I crawled into a bottle and can’t get out”), while Greenstreet frames Crawford on a morals charge and runs her out of town.

New to the mix is David Brian, boss of the state political machine, whose eye is caught by Crawford (now back in town working in the obligatory “roadhouse” operated by Gladys George). He has a whopper of a hangover (“A party’s like insurance – the older you are, the more it costs,” he says), which Crawford assuages with an eye-opening whiskey sour followed by a home-cooked breakfast. Never underestimate the power of a well-scrambled egg. Next thing, they’re married and living in a mansion on high-toned Flamingo Road (complete with a housemaid with the voice and the brain of a parakeet, as in the earlier Curtiz/Crawford Mildred Pierce, except that this time she’s not Butterfly McQueen and is, amazingly for the era, white). But Greenstreet starts pulling even filthier strings than Brian – for once, a passably good egg – can countenance. Whereupon, after a drastic development involving the besotted Scott, Crawford slips a handgun into her clutch-bag and pays Greenstreet an amicable visit….

With at least two sensational movies behind him (Casablanca and Mildred Pierce), and one ahead of him (The Unsuspected), Curtiz can be forgiven for Flamingo Road. He brings it some verve, but its identity as yet another of Crawford’s rags-to-riches vehicles gets the better of him. While his star supplies some startlingly naturalistic acting (and while the uncharacteristically clean-shaven Scott and the characteristically portly Greenstreet are dependably professional), Flamingo Road has fallen, rather unarguably, into the disreputable if transfixing gulch called camp. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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Crawford’s Face/Off with Greensreet

7/10
Author: nycritic
9 March 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Somehow it didn’t occur to Crawford that the believability of her playing what would essentially be a twenty-something circus dancer when she was already up in years would strike her as vaguely ridiculous and could eventually do her more harm than good. But, being the star who wanted to ensure she stayed at the top and not evolve into playing older (except in her Oscar-winning MILDRED PIERCE), second leads, or anything but the star of the film, she finished off the 40s with this film which fares well despite this discrepancy.

FLAMINGO ROAD is an interesting pot-boiler about political corruption in a southern town, with well-matched performances by Sydney Greenstreet, David Brian, and Gladys George to match Crawford’s ego. Zachary Scott seems weak in more ways than one when seen with Crawford, but plays his part well in what looks like a repeat performance from MILDRED PIERCE. This movie was the basis for the 1980 TV movie and the subsequent 1981-82 series of the same name with Cristina Raines, Mark Harmon, Howard Duff, and Stella Stevens in the leads.

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Reception

Howard Barnes wrote in the New York Herald Tribune, “Joan Crawford acquits herself ably in an utterly nonsensical and undefined part…It’s no fault of hers she cannot handle the complicated romances and double crosses in which she is involved.” Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it a “jumbled melodrama” in which Crawford robotically experiences a series of crises.Variety described it as “a class vehicle for Joan Crawford, loaded with heartbreak, romance and stinging violence.”

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