Strait-Jacket (1964)

Directed by William Castle
Cinematography Arthur E. Arling

After a twenty-year stay at an asylum for a double murder, a mother returns to her estranged daughter where suspicions arise about her behavior.

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Psycho in Strait-Jacket

6 April 2007 | by andrabem (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – See all my reviews

“Strait-Jacket” tells this story: Lucy Habin (Joan Crawford) surprises her husband with another woman. She falls into madness and kills them both, and her daughter sees everything. After spending 20 years in an asylum, she’s is considered recovered and released. She leaves the asylum and goes to live with her daughter. Very simply told this is just the introduction of the film. The rest you can guess but maybe you’ll guess wrong. I said maybe.

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This is an interesting film. It is deceivingly naive but those able to go beyond the story will make their own discoveries. For one thing: “Strait-Jacket” was filmed in 1963 when society was more conservative – social rules and divisions were much more rigid then. There were mainly two choices (especially in small towns and rural areas) – either adapt to society and its straight-jacket or else be an outcast. Why am writing this? Because this is one of my readings of the film.

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Anyway “Strait-Jacket” is a good thriller (not so much for the scares but rather for the atmosphere). Well, it hasn’t the sophistication of some film noirs of the 40s and 50s but its charm resides in its simplicity not deprived of sense of humor. Joan Crawfords acting is of course superb and the supporting cast does also a good job. The story is interesting and will keep your attention till the end.

I’ve seen 2 other Castle films (“The Tingler” and “House on Haunted Hill”) – both of them funny and entertaining, but I think that “Strait-Jacket” is the best one – it is not so amateurish and goes deeper than the other ones, but still preserves the light touch characteristic of William Castle. There are surprises in store. Go for it!

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William Castle Presents Joan Crawford In EMOTE-O-RAMA

7/10
Author: gftbiloxi (gftbiloxi@yahoo.com) from Biloxi, Mississippi
14 May 2005

Like all William Castle films, the story of STRAIT-JACKET is slight, full of holes, and often silly to the point of absurdity. Long ago Joan Crawford came home to find her husband in bed with a floozie and snatched up an ax. Adjudged insane, she is locked up in an asylum for twenty years, but now she’s home–and pretty soon some really weird things begin to happen around the old family farm. Could it be, oh, I don’t know… JOAN? Throughout his career, producer-director William Castle liked to build his movies around gimmicks: TINGLER had “Percepto,” 13 GHOSTS had “Illusion-O,” and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL had “Emergo.” But STRAIT-JACKET had something better: Joan Crawford herself, who plays in a style that can only be described as “Emote-O-Rama.

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” Say what you like about Crawford, she never gave any performance less than one hundred percent, and in STRAIT-JACKET she gives one hundred and fifty. In the opening scenes, 60-something Joan has the unmitigated gall to play Lucy in her 20s! Later, as Lucy in her 40s, Joan plays the role like a nice little old lady who occasionally drops acid: when she’s not busy with her nervous breakdown, she sucks down bourbon, attempts to seduce her daughter’s boyfriend (even to the point of putting her fingers in his mouth), knits like a fiend, lights a cigarette by striking a match on a record album, raises hell at a dinner party… and all of it about as subtle as a bulldozer.

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But they didn’t call her a star for nothing: not only does Crawford manage to carry it off with complete conviction, she actually manages to endow the character with considerable pathos along the way. And I have absolutely no doubt that THIS was the film Faye Dunaway studied the most when preparing to play Crawford in the infamous MOMMIE DEAREST; watch both back-to-back and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

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The rest of the cast is pretty interesting as well, featuring Diane Baker as daughter Carol, Leif Erickson as Crawford’s brother, George Kennedy as an unsavory farmhand, and a very young Lee Majors as the ill-fated husband–not to mention Mitchell Cox, a Pepsi V.P. Joan was favoring at the time. There are cheap special effects (amazing, how she can neatly lop off a head or two with a single blow), Pepsi-Cola product placements, and even some dialogue that would do Ed Woods proud. It’s all campy and bizarre and hilariously weird and ramped up to the nth degree by Crawford’s full-force performance.

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With a somewhat better script and production values, STRAIT-JACKET could easily have matched Bette Davis’ more sophisticated HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE; as it stands, however, it is a cult movie in all caps. The DVD release is very nicely done, with the film itself in excellent condition. A collection of Crawford’s costume tests gives a surprising insight to actress’ personality, and a particularly nice little making-of documentary includes comments from Diane Baker. (Note: don’t watch the documentary, called “Battle-Ax,” until after you’ve seen the film: it’s a spoiler.) Strongly recommended to Castle, Cult, and Crawford fans! Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer.

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Background notes

After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Joan Crawford and other older actresses, including Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck, made numerous horror movies throughout the 1960s. Strait-Jacket is one of the more notable examples of the genre sometimes referred to as psycho-biddy or Grande Dame Guignol. During the film’s original release, moviegoers were given little cardboard axes as they entered the theater. At the end of the closing credits, the Columbia logo’s torch-bearing woman is shown in her traditional pose, but decapitated, with her head resting at her feet on her pedestal.

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Reception

Critics disliked the film but praised Crawford’s performance, the general critical consensus being that she was better than the material. Variety noted, “Miss Crawford does well by her role, delivering an animated performance.” Judith Crist commented in the New York Herald Tribune, “…it’s time to get Joan Crawford out of those housedress horror B movies and back into haute couture…this madness-and-murder tale…might have been a thriller, given Class A treatment.” Elaine Rothschild in Films in Review wrote, “…I am full of admiration for Joan Crawford, for even in drek like this she gives a performance.”

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Bosley Crowther, however, wrote a scathing review of both the film and Crawford’s performance in The New York Times, declaring, “Joan Crawford has picked some lemons, some very sour lemons, in her day, but nigh the worst of the lot is “Strait-Jacket…”. He goes on to call the film a “…disgusting piece of claptrap.”

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The film has reasonably high reviews on the Internet Movie Database, with a score of 6.8 out of 10, based on 2,123 votes (February 2013). The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson‘s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. The film also maintains an 80% rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 5 reviews.

Assisted by Castle’s promotion gimmicks, including in-person appearances by Crawford, the film was a big hit.TCM

Strait-Jacket-carolnmom

Crudely effective William Castle schlocker; Crawford’s last hurrah.

6/10
Author: sdiner82 (sdiner82@aol.com) from New York City, USA
15 September 2002
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Following the unexpected smash-hit “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” both Bette Davis & Joan Crawford saw their careers revitalized–as crones in horror films. Davis took the high road (“The Nanny” features one of her finest, most subdued performances.) Crawford apparently took whatever she could get, as witness “Strait-Jacket,” an enormously entertaining low-budget low-class William Castle schlockfest wherein our gal Joanie’s released from prison years after chopping hubby’s block off upon discovering him in bed with another woman.

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When La Crawford is sent home to stay with her daughter (the lovely Diane Baker, whose career had apparently fallen on hard times as well), heads begin to roll again and guess who the cops think is wielding the axe? Like most of Castle’s fright-fests, “Strait-Jacket” is a crude, outrageous (for its time), often genuinely shuddery thriller that does indeed deliver the goods–and benefits immensely from Crawford’s undeniable star-power (whether you’re a fan or not). The isolated farmhouse setting provides a perfectly eerie backdrop for the ghoulish goings-on, the cast includes such pros as Leif Erickson, George Kennedy and Rochelle Hudson, and when the battle-axe starts swinging, the chill-factor is truly alarming.

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The surprise ending is a corker–and such a neat, nasty twist that the exact same gimmick was used four years later when Ms. Crawford journeyed to England to take on the lead in the garishly Technicolored circus thriller “Berserk.” If you’ve seen the latter, you’ll know exactly what I mean, so I shall say no more. Except that, without Miss Crawford, both films could have easily come off as camp hoots. That they don’t is a tribute to this lady’s amazing professionalism. In private life (according to her daughter’s memoir), Joan Crawford may have indeed been the mother-from-hell. In movies, however, she commanded the big screen right up to the bitter end. More power to her!

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