Marian Martin (Joan Crawford) is a factory girl living with her mother in the working class section of Erie PA. Factory boy Al Manning (Wallace Ford) hopes to marry her, but Marian is determined to find a better life. When a train makes a stop in town, Marian looks through the windows and sees the wealthy passengers. She then makes the acquaintance of one of the train passengers, Wally Stuart (Richard “Skeets” Gallagher), a New Yorker who gives her champagne and writes down his address, telling her to look him up if she ever makes it to New York. Marian, now tipsy from the champagne, happily returns home. Giggling, she tells Al and her mother that she was drinking down by the railroad tracks.
Al, who was waiting for her and accuses her of being drunk, spots the piece of paper containing Wally’s address in Marian’s hand, grabs it from her, and tears it up. He then tells Marian that her actions are inappropriate and that she’s staying with him. Marian lashes out, telling Al and her mother that no one owns her and that her life belongs to herself. She grabs the torn paper shreds up from the floor and pastes them back together, then leaves for New York City. There, she looks up Wally who gives her some advice on meeting and keeping wealthy men, which Marian uses to begin a relationship with his friend Mark Whitney (Clark Gable), a divorced attorney.
She eventually becomes Mark’s mistress and he provides her with a complete make-over, educating her in the arts and culture of his social set. Three years pass and the two entertain with brio and style. Marian and Mark fall in love. To cover the fact of Marian being his kept woman, Mark devises a made-up back story of her being “Mrs. Moreland”, a wealthy divorcee living comfortably off her alimony.
Some time later, Al, now running a prosperous cement business, comes to the city hoping to land a big contract. He sees Marian and asks her to marry him, but she refuses. When Al learns that Marian is friends with Mark, Al hopes he can use Mark to help land that contract. Al has no idea of Marian and Mark’s true relationship. When Mark decides to run for gubernatorial office, however, friends caution him that his relationship with Marian is a serious liability. When she overhears Mark talking with some politicians, she learns that he now plans to marry her, despite the fact that their relationship would cause a scandal. To support his gubernatorial bid, she lies to Mark, telling him that she no longer loves him. She tells him that she is going to marry Al instead.
Marian decides to tell Al the truth. He rebuffs her, saying that he could never marry such a woman. He changes his mind when he realizes that in shutting her out of his life, he is also burning his bridges with Mark and that highway contract.
A political rival learns of Marian’s true identity and plans to leak that information at one of Mark’s political rallies. At that rally, Mark has the crowd generally on his side. No one is aware that Marian is in the audience. His political rivals then drop shards of paper from the auditorium ceiling, each piece of paper with the text, “Who is Mrs. Moreland?” written on it. Seeing that text on the paper, Mark has a worried look on his face, he not knowing what to do. As the crowd rumbles, Marian steps up from the audience and tells them that she is Mrs. Moreland, and that Mark has always been an honorable man, who once belonged to her, but now belongs to them. The crowd cheers as she, sobbing, leaves. Outside, Mark catches up to her and tells her that from now on they will be together no matter what. Mark legitimizes their relationship by proposing marriage.
Fast-paced and racy
Poor factory girl (Joan Crawford) goes to New York to find fame and fortune. She quickly becomes a “kept” woman for a rich lawyer (Clark Gable–without his moustache). But she can’t keep her past away forever and things start to go terribly wrong.
Strong (for 1931), short (71 minutes) pre-Code drama. The script is sharp and believable, the direction good and there are some incredibly lavish settings. Also Crawford and Gable are just great in their roles and both of them look incredibly beautiful. There was a brief part at the end that I didn’t buy, but that didn’t destroy the picture at all. Well worth seeing for anybody, but a definite must for Crawford and Gable fans.
A Woman’s Struggle
Author: Jem Odewahn from Australia
15 March 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Clarence Brown’s Pre-Code 1931 drama POSSESSED is an engaging film enhanced considerably by the star presence of a young and beautiful Joan Crawford.
Crawford shines as poor factory worker Marian Martin, a girl from the “wrong side of the tracks”. After another grubby day on the assembly line and an unwanted proposal from a poor suitor (Wallace Ford) Marian glimpses another side of life on a train passing through town. She makes her way to the city and quickly finds that as a woman she must make more than a few sacrifices if she is to enjoy the “good life”. Meeting handsome lawyer Mark Whitney (Clark Gable)makes all her financial dreams come true, yet Marian still longs for the one thing Whitney will not give her-a marriage proposal.
Brown creates an effective melodrama that interestingly examines some of the social mores and topical concerns of the 1930’s. The position of women in society is the key theme addressed by the competent director, with Crawford’s portrayal being both realistic and touching. Crawford makes great use of the close-up to express inner thoughts and feelings, suggesting a whole range of emotions when she overhears Gable speak of his reluctance towards marriage. Crawford is the film’s best asset and she does some great work here, providing the most memorable scenes in the picture.
The film’s other triumph is the slick narrative economy employed by Brown. POSSESSED clocks in at around 73 minutes and is a very efficiently-produced film. MGM’s trademark opulent production design suits the penthouse scenes well, with Crawford looking terrific in jewels and well-cut dresses. Cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh provides some inspired visual style in an early scene that sees Marian standing in awe at the luxury and splendor passing by her on the train. The juxtaposition of Marian’s two lifestyles in this short sequence is a nice effect.
The film is let down by Gable’s distinct blandness and an average script. Gable conspicuously lacks presence alongside Crawford in their scenes and his dialogue delivery is very wooden here. I have noticed that in Gable’s early films he really did have trouble trying to emote on camera. Luckily for Gable, Crawford manages to cover for him in their romantic scenes, putting in a top-drawer ‘cover all bases’ performance.
Worth seeing for Crawford, the themes and it’s production design.