BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Dec 18th, 2001 •

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Columbia/Tri-Star DVD, 2002
A Columbia Picture (1955). Black & White.
Duration: 95 minutes.

Ever since the publication of ‘Mommie Dearest’, the life and career of Joan Crawford has been demonized in the minds of the public. QUEEN BEE will do nothing to change this opinion.

In the 1950s, Crawford made a series of films in which she played a woman of great sexual attraction whose age is never discussed but always in question. QUEEN BEE is part Southern gothic soap opera and part psychodrama. All of these films in the Fifties could play in the horror genre. It wouldn’t take much to turn QUEEN BEE into THE LEECH WOMAN! Crawford is lit to conceal her advancing years but those dark shadows also conceal mental aberration. This reviewer once asked director Vincent Sherman (HARRIET CRAIG) if Crawford ever realized the connection between her life and these delirious Fifties flicks. He replied that her professionalism made it possible for her to make films that reflected her life and yet she was capable of distancing herself while working on them.

The horror pedigree is in evidence with the supporting cast of QUEEN BEE. It seems all of them were destined to go to hell in a handbag! Betsy Palmer, who portrays the victim in the piece, would go on to play the mother of Jason Voorhees in the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. Both Barry Sullivan and John Ireland would play in Joan’s later horror films NIGHT GALLERY and William Castle’s I SAW WHAT YOU DID. And of course, Fay Wray needs no introduction to the world of apes and monsters.

The camp factor in QUEEN BEE is of earthquake caliber. Joan has the best entrance and exit of all her Fifties output. She also has all the best lines and is even allowed two very dramatic breakdown scenes using cold creme and a riding crop to their best advantage. This reviewer thinks Crawford was always aware of her large gay following and, subconsciously or not, created the role of Bitch Goddess for every drag queen that ever had too much to drink and too many men in their lives.

QUEEN BEE opens on a Southern mansion and drifts into an antebellum drawing room full of hopelessly unhappy people. With the arrival of a dewy-eyed young niece, the stage is set for La Crawford to skewer one and all as she drifts through in Jean Louis glamour gowns inhaling bourbon as if it were Perrier. There is always a lot of drinking to be done in Joan’s Fifties films.

The plot is really secondary to Crawford’s theatrics which go on and on with every scene. The thrust of the film is that Crawford’s ‘queen bee’ is a sexual predator that no man can resist, but as soon as the sperm dries, they are all disgusted and want to pull out! But in QUEEN BEE no one goes anywhere until Crawford says so. The one character that gets to exit QUEEN BEE does so by hanging herself. Even the family dog, cute as a button, is shot to death rather than spend another minute around Joan and her outrageous dialogue.

The gay subtext of QUEEN BEE is there if you want it and believe me, you’re gonna want it! Barry Sullivan’s character is called Beauty, a cruel joke regarding a scar on his face inflicted by the ‘queen bee’ in a car accident. Crawford lectures her cousin on the best way to trap men, which is to deceive and seduce. When read in a gay context one can easily see the female roles played by drag queens, or better yet, by an all-male cast. The day will come when some enterprising screenwriter will adapt some of Crawford’s output as gay theatre.

The DVD of QUEEN BEE is a flawless transfer and letterboxed (1.85:1 aspect ratio). The sound quality is digitally enhanced. In short, you will never see this film look any better. There is also a camp trailer emphasizing the monstrousness of Joan’s character and a couple of posters in a rather skimpy advertising extra.

The real joy of a howler like QUEEN BEE is watching one male character after another reach for a bottle or the gun cabinet in an effort to cope with the spectacular villainy of Crawford’s Eva, who knows no shame even though she keeps telling her niece that she once was a young innocent, which is just NOT possible. Even in 1927 opposite Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford was a bitch!

In reassessing Crawfordí’ output in the Fifties, after viewing QUEEN BEE, this reviewer recommends the following: HARRIET CRAIG, TORCH SONG, FEMALE ON THE BEACH, SUDDEN FEAR, THE STORY OF ESTHER COSTELLO, and THE DAMNED DON’T CRY.

If you get through these titles you will then qualify as a Joanologist, having had a crash course in boys, booze and bad behavior! Who could ask for anything more?

Producer: Jerry Wald.
Director: Ranald MacDougall.
Writer: Ranald MacDougall; Based on Novel by Edna L. Lee.
Camera: Charles Lang.
Costume Design: Jean Louis.

Joan Crawford (Eva Phillips), Barry Sullivan (Avery Phillips), Betsy Palmer (Carol Lee Phillips), John Ireland (Judd Phillips), Lucy Marlow (Jennifer Stewart), William Leslie (Ty McKinnon), Fay Wray (Sue McKinnon), Juanita Moore (Maid).

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