Plot: After she was found wandering the streets and eventually collapsed, Louise (Joan Crawford) was taken to a hospital and treated by a psychologist, who was trying to solve the puzzle of her strange condition. At first all she can say is “David,” but soon she begins to recount her memories and reveal how she ended up in this state. “David” turns out to be David Sutton (Van Heflin), a man from her past she was deeply in love with, but who refused to settle down and commit to her, or even acknowledge his love for her, which was devastated her. After her affections overwhelm him, David flees to Canada and she resumes work for a wealthy family, but when the wife dies suddenly, she runs into intense conflict with the daughter, Carol (Geraldine Brooks). As she tries to keep herself composed, but is pushed to the brink thanks to Carol and the void left by David, she begin to sink into an abyss of madness. But when David returns, will she finally have her love back or will things take a darker turn?
Entertainment Value: If you like dialed up melodrama and dysfunction, Possessed has those elements in spades and delivers it all with the smooth veneer of classic cinema, not to mention a hall of fame performance from Joan Crawford. I love that Possessed tells us Louise’s tale from her own perspective, but she even paints herself as unstable and always on the brink. If you assume she is an unreliable narrator, as she seems to be, I can only imagine how wild and insane her antics were, that this represents her softened vision of the events. Of course, she could also just be blowing the whole thing out of proportions, but she seems like she would scale down her own involvement in shade, not crank it up. The narrative here is simple, but wildly effective and delivers all the drama you could want, but in a refined, masterful presentation. So yes, melodrama and emotion run high here, but it is performed with great skill and the movie never feels like just another “a woman scorned” picture. But make no mistake, this is over the top, relentless melodrama, it is just done by top tier talent.
This movie is driven by the sheer madness of Joan Crawford, who turns in an absolute jaw dropping performance here. I’ve seen a lot of melodrama with unstable women in movies, but one Louise is one for the record books and Crawford just lights up the screen with her work. This is force of nature, once in a lifetime level stuff even by Crawford’s high standards. She flings people down stairs, glares with god tier level crazy eyes, and unravels in glorious fashion here. I also love how no matter who she is in a scene with, she plays off them so well, especially Van Heflin and Geraldine Brooks. The banter between Brooks and Crawford is beyond epic and their staircase showdown is one of my favorite scenes of all time, just pure magic. Heflin plays his role well, giving us a role that can be read several ways, while Brooks is super fun as the naive, optimistic Carol, a prime foil for the broken Louise. Beyond the narrative and performances, the movie also boasts some slick visuals and the music matches the melodrama to perfect, I love the big flourishes when Louise loses her shit. I seriously think Possessed is a masterpiece of melodrama, a constantly entertaining movie that gathers impressive talent, then unleashes it upon this material with sadistic glee.