Crime of Passion

crime of passionSuggested by Brad Nelson • Barbara Stanwyck plays a not-your-average ’50s woman — an extraordinary witty advice columnist — who sacrifices her career to help advance her new husband’s (Sterling Hayden), at any cost.
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8 Responses to Crime of Passion

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In many respects, this is little more than a B-movie. It’s interesting but somewhat uneven. Still, it’s a wonderful slice of film-noir history with Stanwyck exquisite in her role as femme fatale.

    If you remember her sterling (no pun intended) performance with Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (surely one of the greatest examples of film noir), this is somewhat the same slightly-deranged (and ultimately dangerous) woman. (And Annie might note that she appeared in Zane Grey Theatre, a series I wasn’t aware of.)

    I caught this streaming on Netflix as of this writing, but you can watch it for free on YouTube (as linked above). It has a strong cast including Raymond Burr and Fay Wray (in a somewhat minor part — I didn’t initially recognize her). And it’s a treat to see Ike Godsey (Joe Conley) as a young man in the opening scene playing a delivery boy. You can’t mistake that voice.

    Stanwyck plays a columnist for a San Francisco newspaper who is the stereotypical modern “don’t need a man and can only find fulfillment in my job” woman. What makes this movie somewhat uneven is that she initially plays this persona to a tee — and then promptly marries Sterling Hayden (a police detective), instantly giving up all her own hopes and dreams.

    Havoc ensues when Stanwyck’s character gets bored being a dutiful housewife and begins to push her husband’s career…in often devious ways. The sheer strength of Stanwyck’s performance wallpapers over a sometimes questionable plot. She starts out as the ultimate in strong, independent ladies and then, like a puppet, is dragged into this other persona. As one reviewer put it:

    The Stanwyck character’s arc from smart-before-her-time newswoman to submissively manipulative wife feels rushed at best, and at worst just plain false.

    But it’s a fun ride for a relatively brief 84 minutes. Modern movies could gain much if they simply didn’t try to stretch out an 80-minute story to over two hours. That 84 minutes, in my opinion, lets this movie get away with a host of cinematic ills.

    Sterling Hayden is suitably Sterling Hayden in this film. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of great chemistry between them. But that actually works to the advantage of the plot. They both profess great love to each other. But love is not enough…at least for Stanwyck. And such plot points are what make this movie. There are some interesting human nature points (female or otherwise) that are touched upon. There is some sophistication wrapped up on an otherwise simple movie. My favorite moment was a conversation between Stanwyck and Burr — both realize that the other had a grasp of people that put them like lions among the wildebeest.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a terrific review of the film by an Amazon reviewer (Mark Norvell). I like reading other people’s thoughts on these things because it give me idea. And I’d say that this chap has a skill for encapsulating things. Don’t read this unless you want the entire plot of the movie revealed:s

    Neat, tidy little B-picture about a woman who tries to push her husband up the ladder of success only to have it backfire on her. San Francisco newspaper writer Kathy Ferguson (Barbara Stanwyck) meets and quickly marries macho LA detective Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden) and finds herself plopped down in the middle of suburbia. This is all well and good until she finds her role relegated to the living room with the brainless other wives while the “boys” play poker in the kitchen. Being from a newspaper, she’s used to being one of the boys and not one of the “little women”. She finally snaps after one too many of these evenings and starts scheming to move her husband up in the department so she can be proud of him and mingle intelligently with the upper crust where she feels they belong. Her plans go beautifully until she runs up against her biggest obstacle, Bill’s boss police chief Raymond Burr. They become close and one night he shows up at Kathy’s while Bill’s away and confides that he needs to retire and is looking for a replacement. Kathy siezes the opportunity to sell Bill as the replacement and commits the ultimate sacrifice via a one-night-stand with Burr thinking she’s cinched the “deal” for Bill. But Burr has other plans—leaving Kathy horrified and guilty over what she’s done. Her next move will be murder. Stanwyck always excelled at portraying strong, driven, ambitious women and Kathy is no exception. But the film has an obvious feminist slant unusual for the time. The director and Stanwyck make it clear what motivates Kathy and why she she goes over the edge. She loves her husband enough to go all out for him but smart enough to know that she will benefit too. She’s too strong a woman to just sit around and mindlessly gossip over dresses, diets and phony aspirations. Her aspirations are real because she knows what she wants for herself and her husband. And it doesn’t include cream cheese and olives. For Stanwyck fans, this is an interesting addition to her gallery of headstrong women with an agenda. It’s not a “great” film but it’s good and worth watching.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    This sounds similar to a movie I once saw the last part of, involving a group of men who are up for a promotion in a business. One has an ambitious wife who pushes his case (most of this happened before I started to watch, so I don’t know the details). Finally she meets the boss, and is pleased to discover that he prefers her husband, and that she did influence his decision. She’s less pleased when he points out that he didn’t say he was choosing her husband. This leads somehow to her breaking up with her husband, after which the boss chooses him — saying that the guy had had one serious disadvantage that he now has eliminated. (One of the other guys was played by Fred MacMurray, and as I recall the other guys didn’t really want the job.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Now I’m intrigued. That movie doesn’t ring a bell, but how many film noirs (or such dramas) are there will Fred MacMurray in them. I don’t think it’s 1954’s Pushover, which I found in a quick search, but that’s one I’d like to see as well. Looking through his list of films at, there are a whole lot of Fred MacMurray films I have not seen. There’s much more going on with him than just “Son of Flubber.”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I don’t see how you can mention Son of Flubber without first mentioning The Absent-Minded Professor.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Looking up MacMurray’s entry in Wikipedia, the movie probably was Woman’s World; the incomplete description of the plot seems to match up well. It doesn’t go into how it ended, and I didn’t see the early parts, so I can’t be sure, but it does involve 3 men invited (with their wives) to be evaluated for a promotion, MacMurray is one of the 3 men, and one of them has a sexy, ambitious wife. All this fits what I remember, and there can’t be many movies with that combination of characteristics.

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