Female on the Beach (1955)

Directed by Joseph Pevney
Cinematography Charles Lang

Lynn Markham moves into her late husband’s beach house…the morning after former tenant Eloise Crandall fell (or was pushed) from the cliff. To her annoyance, Lynn finds both her real estate agent and Drummond Hall, her muscular beachcomber neighbor, making themselves quite at home. Lynn soon has no doubts of what her scheming neighbors are up to, but she finds Drummond’s physical charms hard to resist. And she still doesn’t know what really happened to Eloise.

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Crawford strikes again!

22 September 2002 | by hipthorntonSee all my reviews

Freudian references aside,this well-mounted melodrama about a rich widow mixed up with a shady beach bum is definitely Crawford at her best. No simpering weak-kneed sister,this film noir-type story is a direct slap in the face to the Hollywood in the 50’s who insisted on casting aging leading men with absurdly young leading ladies.The notion that older women need love and affection was considered almost absurd. Tennessee Williams territory!This film brought it smack dab in the face.Natalie Schaefer and Cecil Kellaway are fun as card sharks after Crawford’s money.Jeff chandler is stolid as the beach bum.Judith Evelyn is touching as Eloise Crandall in the flashbacks. Jan Sterling is good as somewhat snaky realtor.Charles Drake is good as beach cop,t

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Plot..

Lynn Markham (Crawford) visits a beach house that once belonged to her dead husband. There, she meets real estate agent Amy Rawlinson (Jan Sterling) and Drummond “Drummy” Hall (Chandler), an attractive beach bum who wanders in and out of the house as though he owned it.

Lynn learns the house was once rented to Eloise Crandall (Judith Evelyn), an older woman whose cause of death (suicide, accident, or murder) remains undetermined. Lynn later discovers “Drummy” is the accomplice of card sharps Osgood and Queenie Sorenson (Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer), and that he heartlessly pursued Crandall in order to set her up for card games with the Sorensons. Lynn’s physical attraction to Drummy is overpowering and she marries him. Events on their honeymoon lead Lynn to believe he murdered Eloise. It transpires, however, that Amy Rawlinson killed Crandall because she wanted Drummy for herself.

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Reviews

Film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a mixed review, writing, “Their progress is rendered no more fetching by the inanities of a hackneyed script and the artificiality and pretentiousness of Miss Crawford’s acting style. At the end, the guilty party is revealed in a ridiculous way. Jan Sterling, Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer are the supporting players you may remotely suspect.

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Shortly before the film was made, Joan Crawford was dating the president of Universal Pictures, who offered her the role. She also was given her choice of leading man, and she selected Jeff Chandler.
According to Natalie Schafer, halfway through filming she was invited by Joan Crawford to her house for a small dinner party, but had to decline as she already had plans. When Schafer arrived onto the set the next morning, she found that her trailer had been physically moved almost to the parking lot of Universal.
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Crawford plays Crawford in self-referential cautionary tale

8/10
Author: bmacv from Western New York
7 August 2002

Few case studies of Hollywood stardom rival Joan Crawford’s in their curiosity. A certified star from the time of last silent movies and the first talkies, she fell from favor more than once only to be restored in ever newer incarnations, largely through the boundless reservoirs of her will.

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And if there is an era that defines the Crawford that we remember most vividly, it’s the decade-plus, from her Oscar-winning turn as Mildred Pierce in 1945 through her last `really top’ movie, The Story of Esther Costello in 1957. In her valiant assault, as she moved into middle age, against time’s winged chariot, she had vehicles built around her that helped define the canons of camp but retain a fascination that transcends camp. This dozen or so includes: Humoresque, Flamingo Road, her second Possessed, The Damned Don’t Cry, Harriet Craig, This Woman Is Dangerous, Sudden Fear, Torch Song, Queen Bee and Autumn Leaves. Though we may howl at some of them (or at parts of them, for they range from rather good to quite dreadful), we’re always aware – at times discomfitingly so – of the human drama that underlies and links them all: the Joan Crawford story.

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In Female on the Beach, she plays a recent widow taking up residence in the coastal California home her wealthy husband owned. Her arrival proves ill-starred, for a broken railing on its deck marks the spot where its previous tenant – another woman battling age and isolation – plunged to her death. Did she jump or fall – or was she pushed? It unfolds that she had fallen prey to a youngish beach bum (Jeff Chandler) operated by a pair of older con-artists (Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer); Crawford is targeted as their next mark.

Obsessively guarding her privacy, however, she proves to be a tough nut to crack. Her too familiar realtor (Jan Sterling) is swiftly shown the door when she makes the mistake of taking Crawford for granted. And Chandler, turning up unbidden in Crawford’s kitchen one morning, encounters that same rough hide; asked how she likes her coffee, she icily replies `Alone.’

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But tanned muscles and prematurely grey temples do not count for nothing in affluent oceanside communities, so Chandler slowly wins over the armored Crawford. But the course of true love never did run smooth, as the Bard of Avon warns us. Crawford just happens to find the dead woman’s indiscreet diary (it’s hidden away behind a loose brick in the fireplace!), a sad yarn of being cheated in card games and bilked for loans by the larcenous old couple while being strung along by Chandler.

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No fool she, Crawford hands the gigolo his walking papers. But then she sinks into a sump of liquor and self-loathing, staggering around waiting the phone to ring like a torch-carrier out of a Dorothy Parker story. Finally, of course, Chandler does call and, better yet, wants to marry her! But fate has a few final cards to deal, including an uninstalled fuel pump Crawford had bought for Chandler’s boat….

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That staple of genre cinema, the woman-in-jeopardy thriller, generally features dithery, hysterical young things as straw victims. Crawford in jeopardy, by contrast, turns all the conventions upside down. The coquettish bulldozer she has constructed of herself at this menopausal juncture in her life, with her face as fiercely painted as a Kabuki mask, seems designed to repel – to crush – any threats. (Of course, like most such postures of domination and intimidation, It’s a construct of fear – her fears of falling short as a serious actress, as a mother, as a woman; fears of aging and no longer being able to lure her directors and costars between the sheets; fears of not mastering her own unachievable goals.) The facade of control and self-sufficiency proves all the more arresting when it comes under siege from the cumbersome twists and turns of these situations held over from nineteenth-century melodrama.

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Hence, Female on the Beach and its ilk. An indomitable woman of a certain age flies solo into the perils of mid-life, only to triumph against all odds. That was the life Crawford was living at mid-century, the life reflected in these films, by turns appalling and transfixing. Not since the Brothers Grimm has such a string of cautionary tales been issued.

hane Estes  (June 2010)

Rating:   of 5

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When it comes to Joan Crawford I tend to be more of a biased critic because I’m an obsessed gay fan, but I’ll say if it’s a bad film or not, and Crawford has definitely made a few stinkers. Female on the Beach, despite some bad reviews at the time and the fact that a lot of critics today shrug this film off as camp, is a good film; classic 50’s Crawford and one of my personal favorites. It’s definitely in my top 10. Everyone I’ve shown this film to has enjoyed it immensely, full of suspense and laughing the whole way.

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Production details surrounding this picture are few and far between, but from what I’ve read Crawford had a lot of control over this film, complete with cast and script approval, and she did like the picture after it was finished. Interestingly, I read somewhere that this film was a gift for Crawford from the president of Universal Studios (Milton Rackmil) whom she was dating at the time.

I am a huge fan of film noir, and Female on the Beach is the epitome of this genre in the mid 1950’s. All the elements are there: dark, shadowy camera work, the femme fatal and the homme fatal, the crime at the beginning of the film and the details given later in flashbacks, theme of murder, etc. The classic period of film noir is in the 1940’s, but it persisted into the 1950’s and as it evolved it developed characteristics that are sometimes interpreted today as camp, especially toward the end of the period, which is usually agreed upon as 1957 with the release of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (with Marlene Dietrich as a fortune teller!). I could see how the old-fashioned 50’s acting style could be taken by some people today as campy, but I think this is a highly entertaining film noir. A great example of the genre. A Joan Crawford beach film noir comedy! Three genres in one!

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Joan looks great in this film. Her aging hard-edged noir looks go great with the dark themes presented here. I think she looks better in this than she did in Queen Bee, which came out later that same year. The story is simple so I won’t give away too much. Lonely rich widow (Joan Crawford) falls for shady but ridiculously sexy beach gigolo (Jeff Chandler) with a psycho ex-girlfriend (Jan Sterling). Natalie Schafer reunites with Crawford for the first time since Reunion in France (1942), this time playing a cheating and gambling card-shark aristocrat-wannabe instead of a Nazi’s wife, but nevertheless it somehow comes off as the same character she always plays: Mrs. Howell.

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The film is full of hilarious one-liners. Some of my favorites are “I wouldn’t have you if you were hung with diamonds upside-down,” and “I’d like to ask you to stay and have a drink, but I’m afraid you might accept.” Another good one is when Chandler makes himself at home in Crawford’s kitchen and he asks her, “How do you like your coffee?” to which she replies with a cold, “Alone.” But my favorite line from the film has to be when Crawford says to Sterling, “I have a nasty imagination, and I’d like to be left alone with it.

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