Domineering Harriet Craig holds more regard for her home and its possessions than she does for any person in her life. Among those she treats like household objects are her kind husband Walter, whom she has lied to about her inability to have children; her cousin Claire, whom she treats like a secretary; and her servants whom she treats like slaves.
“A strange and fascinating woman, at war with the whole world.”
The line above is from the original advertising art, and it conveys the theme of HARRIET CRAIG very well. I have an issue with reviewers who are constantly comparing characters on the screen with the actors who portray them. Harriet Craig was a character, and that is all. There are parallels between the lives of the character and Joan Crawford herself, but one should not go so far as to say they are the same! Joan Crawford is a woman of many mysteries. Every account you could possibly read about her life is full of contradictions; was she good or was she bad, was the ruthless and cruel or was she generous and kind? She was probably all of these things and, like Harriet Craig, a complicated, non-conventional, and independent woman at war with the world.
This is where the comparison ends. The character in the film is a compulsive liar and manipulator. Harriet Craig lies about anything and everything in the spider’s web she builds around her. Joan Crawford’s performance is fierce and chilling in its complexity. This is a woman of astounding talent, playing a character worthy of that talent. This is one of only a handful of roles Crawford ever played that allowed her to really act, which she does so well you will forget all about those other “great” actresses which usually claim all the credit.
If 1950 was not such a tough year, I’m convinced Joan would have received an Oscar nomination for the performance. The film itself was worthy of a nomination and, as the advertising art claimed, was “one of the five best pictures of the year.” I think it is comparable in quality to ALL ABOUT EVE and SUNSET BLVD., and certainly Crawford’s performance is on par with the leads in those films, and one of the best of her career! One last final note: a feminist take on HARRIET CRAIG may emphasize that Harriet was just a woman trying to survive the sexist times…but Wendell Corey was such a good and nice husband, believing in their equality, that I don’t buy it. Harriet was a woman hurt by her times and unfortunately taking out her mistrust of men on her innocent and good husband, as well as others around her. Harriet was, in the end, a victim of her own prejudice, and selfish, compulsive lies.
Crawford as domestic despot: A cautionary parable
Author: bmacv from Western New York
26 June 2002
“Harriet Craig” started out as a stage success – obviously, it struck familiar chords – and saw at least one previous film version (Craig’s Wife, starring Rosalind Russell). Remade in 1950 with Joan Crawford commandeering the part of the domestic despot, the movie takes on a dimension that helped define camp. It also offers an unadulterated middle-period glimpse of the controlling monsters she had begun (Mildred Pierce, Humoresque) and continued (Torch Song, Johnny Guitar, Queen Bee) to play on film. (And, if there is a sliver of verity in her adopted daughter Cristina’s report from the front lines, such roles paralleled her off-screen personality).
It’s a parable about the dangers of social ascendancy, an illustration of Thorstein Veblen’s view of the affluent wife as agent of conspicuous consumption. Joan Crawford’s Harriet Craig has it all: a husband in a grey flannel suit on his way up the corporate ladder (Wendell Corey), and so can buy her what she most desires: property and position. She’s obsessed with who does and does not fit in with what she refers to as `our set’ as she strikes poses in her perfect (and perfectly dull) upper-middle-class abode.
That her only interest in her husband is as a meal ticket is revealed by her avoiding her wifely obligations under the pretext that bearing children would be dangerous. But she’s not content to leave him be, maybe to enjoy a little action on the side; what might the other members of their `set’ think? She craves total control. When he’s about to go out of town on a business trip, thus slithering out at least temporarily from under her oppressive thumb, she intervenes, lying to his boss that he’s a compulsive gambler. Finally, of course, the worm turns…. But, in the closing shot, when Crawford regally ascends her curved staircase alone among the splendor of her possessions, you wonder who’s really won after all.
This soapish melodrama remains surprisingly riveting. Perhaps it’s the extra touch of authenticity Crawford brings to her portrayal (Mary Tyler Moore played a later version of this upscale shrew in Ordinary People; then of course there’s always Martha Stewart). The movie preserves an uncanny sense of upward mobility in America, circa midcentury, a lugubrious self-importance that has not, alas, vanished from the land.
Joanie Dearest wants the house clean…..
Author: Poseidon-3 from Cincinnati, OH
15 April 2002
What a total hoot this movie is… Joan Crawford, in FULL authority (matched only by her even more imperious turn in the later “Queen Bee”) runs her ideal house and the people in it as though she were a puppeteer and her husband and servants are nothing more than marionettes at her disposal. The fun begins right off the bat as the staff trudges up and down her magnificent staircase and flutter about tending to her every whim. None of this is good enough for her, though. She takes turns knocking the wind out of each of their sails for things like taking too long, using the wrong steps and allowing unwanted flowers to enter her home. Her attention to detail and monstrous obsession with order HAD to influence the makers of the character-assassinating, but uproariously funny “Mommie Dearest”. Every move Crawford makes in this film is calculated and played for maximum impact. Her expressions are tight and telling.
It’s impossible to take one’s eyes off her…especially with her array of stylishly scary outfits and severely unflattering hair. There’s a perverse thrill in watching Crawford browbeat Grandma Walton (Corby)! Battered husband Corey (often cast as dull or menacing men) is a perfect counterpart here with a rare chance to show off some of his charm and appeal. Watson adds some sly wisdom to the proceedings as Corey’s boss’s wife and McKinney stands up to Joan very well as a long-term maid. At 94 minutes, the film is PERFECT entertainment when one is in the mood for some campy, classic fun.
Don’t Touch That Vase!
Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
3 November 2001
Joan Crawford shines as George Kelly’s Craig’s Wife, which had been made as a film some years earlier with Rosalind Russell, hence the title change. Joan is far better suited to the role, and closer to the right age. As a controlling, materialistic, unfeeling housewife, she is perfect, and is better than I’ve ever seen her. Crawford clearly understands this woman and doesn’t play for sympathy. Yet we can sense her identification with the character, which is complete. SHE has sympathy for the monstrous Harriet, and we can feel it. There is a touch of Pirandello-ish identification here, and it comes through loud and clear; and yet for all this, Miss Crawford is never hammy. She is a thorough pro, and gives us a Craig’s Wife that Harriet Craig would herself heartily approve of.
Joan Crawford at her best!
Author: (Starnostar80@hotmail.com) from Raleigh, Nc
9 April 2004
Casting Joan Crawford as Harriet Craig was the perfect decision. She stars in this gloomy melodrama as a woman whose compulsion for cleanliness and complete control ultimately destroys her. I have heard before that this movie was written as a comedy (which is quite evident in the original version “Craig’s Wife” starring Rosalind Russell) but due to Crawford’s coldness in playing Harriet, the tone of the movie completely changed. Don’t get me wrong, it does have its amusing moments, as unintentional as they might be. We see Crawford act completely condescending towards everyone she comes in contact with. It is made quite obvious that Harriet manipulates her husband, Walter, who believes Harriet is the perfect wife, by keeping him “happy” in the bedroom. Some rather suggestive dialogue even for 1950. The absolute best is when Harriet holds a dinner party for Walter’s boss. She seems completely rude to her guests who all coincidentally happen to be over 50, making Harriet look like a glamour girl. Much of what makes this movie so amusing is the way in which the dialogue is presented, as well as Crawford’s ridiculous gestures. “My that’s a lovely vase.,’ exclaims one of the guests, pointing towards Harriet’s most prized possession. “It’s Ming-Dynasty” replies Harriet proudly displaying her vase like some prize-girl on a gameshow.
Harriet seems not to feel compassion for anyone and tolerates no mistakes. “I was wondering if you ever intended on serving the coffee, my guests have been waiting for quite some time!” Harriet shouts at her maids, causing one of them to drop a teacup. Harriet’s looks as if she is about to explode as the cup shatters on the floor. “I’m so sorry Mrs. Craig!” “Yes, of course your sorry, but sorry won’t mend my broken tea set!” sneers Harriet as she fires the maid. The movies seems to keep building just to show us how wicked Harriet is, including a visit to her husband’s boss which is completely unforgettable. She interferes with her cousin’s love life, almost causes her husband to lose his job, fires all of her staff, and to top it off is mean to the little boy next door. “What was Harriet Craig’s Lie? proclaimed the posters and advertisements for this movie. The answer: Her entire existence. The lies just continue to pour out one after the other until everyone is so far driven by it, they leave. But does Harriet learn her lesson? Of course not, even the final line in the movie is a lie. So in the end all we see is Harriet with the only companion to whom she’s stayed true…her house. This movie is by far one of my favorite Joan Crawford movies, and what’s really coincidental about it, Harriet Craig, the character, almost foreshadows Joan’s persona in Christina Crawford’s trash novel “Mommie Dearest”. Perhaps Christina saw this movie too many times, and confused the facts. 🙂 ****If you liked this movie you’ll LOVE Joan Crawford in “Queen Bee”. It’s like Harriet Craig, but set in the south! -Mark Thomas