Tuesday, June 4, 2019

THE ROSALIND RUSSELL BLOGATHON: Craig's Wife (1936)


Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is celebrating the great Rosalind Russell with a blogathon running on June 4th to the 6th. Click HERE for the tributes to Roz.


John Boles, Rosalind Russell

After two years of marriage, Walter Craig played by John Boles is still besotted with his lovely wife Harriet played by Rosalind Russell. Harriet is the picture of poised perfection, as is the house she keeps. Nothing must mar the image Harriet presents to the world of her control and her independence.

Alma Kruger, Rosalind Russell, John Boles

Harriet's need for control is a neurosis that will be her emotional undoing. Blinded by his love, Walter sees only what he wants to see in his wife. Others, like his Aunt Ellen played by Alma Kruger are only too well aware of the way Harriet has taken over Walter's life by isolating him from the society of former friends. Ellen isn't even allowed the company of their friendly neighbour Mrs. Frazier played by Billie Burke. Harriet sees the matronly neighbour as a rival for Walter.

Servants in the Craig household are difficult to hold onto. The agency who provides cooks will not send another until speaking with Mrs. Craig directly to ascertain the reason for the turnover. The current maid Maizy played by Nydia Westman has never worked for a woman more difficult to please.  Mrs. Harold, the housekeeper played by Jane Darwell doesn't try to please Mrs. Craig. Mrs. Harold does her work and if Mrs. Craig doesn't like it "she has a tongue in her head."

Rosalind Russell, John Boles

Harriet has been away from her beloved and flawless home visiting her ill sister played by Elisabeth Risdon. The emotion of a sick room seems too much for Harriet who uses the pretense that visitors are impeding her sister's recovery to return home. Harriet whisks her niece Ethel played by Dorothy Wilson away with her.

During the train journey, Ethel speaks of her engagement to a young professor played by Robert Allen. Eager to share the experience of love, Ethel is shocked to learn that love plays no part in her aunt and uncle's marriage, at least for Harriet's part. Harriet married Walter for her own emancipation. Walter will pay for Harriet's independence and Harriet will be the dutiful wife as long as Walter behaves. Ethel finds this attitude dishonest and monstrous. Harriet believes her niece to be youthful and foolish.

During Harriet's absence, Walter has visited an old and disturbed friend played by Thomas Mitchell. The man has taken to drink over suspicions of his wife's fidelity. The next day the couple is found dead and the investigation points to a murder/suicide. Walter is, of course, blameless of the events yet feeling guilty for not realizing the depth of his friend's despair. Harriet muddies the waters by using the phone company to determine where Walter had gone by tracing the phone number left with Mrs. Harold if he were needed. It would never occur to the distrustful Harriet to simply ask her husband what he had done or where he had gone.

Rosalind Russell

One by one, the members of the Craig household leave. Maizy is fired when her boyfriend visits her in the kitchen. Aunt Ellen can stand no more of Harriet Craig. When Aunt Ellen leaves, Mrs. Harold will be at her side. Ethel's fiance, who couldn't reach her by phone due to Harriet's interference, arrives to take Ethel away. Ethel is only too happy to leave such an unhappy place.

Walter watches all of this with a sense of shock, but it is Harriet's attitude toward his deceased friends the Passmores and his innocent involvement that is the final eye-opener. Harriet doesn't care whether Walter's knowledge is innocent or not, as long as their names are kept out of the newspapers and the precious sterile world she has created for herself is kept pristine.

Walter's first steps in breaking free of Harriet's grasp include smoking in the museum-like room that is the centerpiece of Harriet's creation. Walter's smashing of an antique vase signals the breaking of the marriage. Harriet will, at last, have her emancipation from the messiness of emotional entanglements. Will her happiness be complete?

Editor Viola Lawrence, Actress Rosalind Russell
Screenwriter Mary C. McCall Jr., Director Dorothy Arzner

Mary C. McCall Jr., one of the founders of the Writers Guild of American wrote the screenplay for Craig's Wife based on George Kelly's 1925 Pulitzer Prize-Winning play. The first film version was produced in 1928 starring Irene Rich and Warner Baxter and directed by William C. DeMille. Vincent Sherman directed a further film version 1950 entitled Harriet Craig starring Joan Crawford and Wendell Corey.

Dorothy Arzner directed Craig's Wife at Columbia Studios and star Rosalind Russell was on loan from MGM. Costumer designer Lon Anthony plays up Roz's tall, slim figure. Harriet at home is often clothed in the long lines of Grecian design making her appear the untouchable goddess. The design by uncredited William Haines and Lucien Ballard's slick cinematography highlights the coldness of Harriet's vision for her life and her home.

For Rosalind Russell, Craig's Wife fell between the adventure Under Two Flags and the psychological thriller Night Must Fall. The role of Harriet Craig was a fine showcase for Roz's versatility in her first decade in Hollywood.















26 comments:

  1. Funny you should mention the wardrobe: I never thought of Roz as glamorous the way, say, Loretta Young was glamorous, but I saw it in these stills right away. I guess I think of Roz as more... I dunno, urbane? Down to earth? I know, she was Auntie Mame, but HIS GIRL FRIDAY sticks out more in my head.

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    1. I have become more fascinated by the way costume designers can manipulate our impression of a character, and the close collaboration with directors and actors to achieve that impression.

      Mame is an almost mythic character but, like you, my first association with Roz is of the no-nonsense, suit-wearing professional.

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    2. I agree, Rich. I haven't seen Rosalind Russell in very many glam roles, so I think of her more as a professional career person. But here she looks gorgeous, every bit as glamorous as the Hollywood Star she is.

      Thanks for another introduction to a new-to-me film, CW. I bet Roz is fab in this role.

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    3. Indeed. Roz gets high marks for her glamour and her interpretation of the character in Craig's Wife.

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  2. I just saw this film for the first time recently. Russell does indeed display her versatility in a great dramatic performance. Overall, I was left stunned by the story. The final image of Harriet surveying her domain is pretty powerful.

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    1. Indeed. Harriet is so sure of herself and her power, and totally unprepared when everything collapses.

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  3. I remember NYDIA WESTMAN from two movies with DON KNOTTS-THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN and THE RELUCTANT ASTRONAUT. I also remember her from an episode of BEWITCHED. It was one about MRS. STEPHENS(MABEL ALBERSON). Also I see from her credits that she did an ep of PERRY MASON and played MAMIE in LITTLE WOMEN(1933). I wonder who Mamie is. I only saw the 1949 LITTLE WOMEN with JUNE ALLYSON.

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    1. I meant MABEL ALBERTSON. She was the sister of JACK ALBERTSON(CHICO AND THE MAN). She was also the mother-in-law of CLORIS LEACHMAN. Mabel played PHYLLIS STEPHENS on BEWITCHED and Cloris played PHYLLIS LINDSTROM on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and her own spin-off PHYLLIS. Both named Phyllis! Jack was an OSCAR, EMMY & TONY winner. Did you see the WILLY WONKA movie with Jack? I saw it when I was probably ten or younger. I am a big fan of Jack Albertson. He played a different kind of part in an ep of CHARLIES ANGELS. It was when TANYA ROBERTS(JULIE) joined the show. I remember I read on somebody elses page about your son recognizing Jack Albertson and his name.

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    2. Nydia Westman enjoyed a long career. She was in the first of the Bulldog Drummond movies, but they lost her character along the way. If memory serves, Mamie in Little Women was the housemaid in New York when Jo went to take care of the children.

      The Albertson siblings rate high marks around here. My special needs son is particularly fond of Jack in The Fox and the Hound, and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

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  4. One I must definitely see after reading your fine review. Can you compare it to Harriet Craig?

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    1. The play really has staying power. It still worked wonderfully well in Harriet Craig, with few changes. The storyline with the niece is expanded a bit, and it is made more obvious that Harriet's hold on Walter is sex. Joan is impressive.

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  5. BILLIE BURKE, JANE DARWELL & THOMAS MITCHELL in the same movie! DARWELL & MITCHELL later were both in GONE WITH THE WIND. BURKE played the GOOD WITCH in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Both CLASSIC movies came out in 1939. There may be movies as famous as those two but certainly not more famous. Also MITCHELL & DARWELL both got to work with JOHN WAYNE. Looking at Jane Darwells credits I noticed at least 4 titles that were SHIRLEY TEMPLE movies. I like BILLIE BURKE as a ditzy society woman. I remember her from MERRILY WE LIVE and FINISHING SCHOOL-the last one had FRANCES DEE & GINGER ROGERS(one of my absolute favorites). Also JANE DARWELL got to work with Ginger(in a brief scene) in TENDER COMRADE.

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  6. Jane Darwell and Thomas Mitchell both won their Oscars for John Ford films, The Grapes of Wrath and Stagecoach. Billie Burke appeared in one John Ford film, Sergeant Rutledge in 1960. Another lady with a long career and with an Oscar nomination for Merrily We Live.

    I love the ending of Finishing School when Bruce Cabot walks away with Francess Dee. Very satisfying.

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  7. I saw ROSALIND RUSSELL in the movie ROSIE! with SANDRA DEE as her granddaughter who is trying to help Rosie because the parents of Miss Dees character are after Rosies money. It had VANESSA BROWN as Rosies daughter & LESLIE NIELSEN as her son-in-law. It was Sandras last movie uder contract to UNIVERSAL, it was the end of her career as a leading lady. Sandra was adorable and delightful. She had a fine career and was a popular star. BRIAN AHERNE was also in the movie. Imdb has it as his last credit. I also know Brian from SUSAN SLADE with CONNIE STEVENS and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING with HOPE LANGE, MARTHA HYER and JOAN CRAWFORD. Do you know the movies of Brian very well? (BRIAN DONLEVY, BRIAN KEITH, and BRIAN AHERNE. That makes 3 on here lately.)

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    1. Of course I meant under contract to UNIVERSAL.

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    2. Brian Aherne co-starred with Rosalind Russell in My Sister Eileen and I thought they were quite the interesting pair. Roz played writer Ruth Sherwood in that movie and later on Broadway in the musical Wonderful Town. It was a good fit.

      I enjoy Brian in The Great Garrick, A Night to Remember and, of course, Merrily We Live. His Twilight Zone episode, The Trouble With Templeton goes right to my heart.

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  8. P.S. AUDREY MEADOWS was also in ROSIE! as another daughter so she played the aunt to SANDRA DEE. Earlier AUDREY was in TAKE HER, SHES MINE with Sandra. That time she played the MOTHER to SANDRA and the husband/father was played by JIMMY STEWART. I remember you mentioned watching SHEILA MACRAE on THE HONEYMOONERS. I never saw those or the ones with PERT KELTON. I only saw the ones with AUDREY in the mid-late 80s. Ive seen clips of the other two women and Sheila seemed too young. By the way, I remember seeing SHEILA and her daughter MEREDITH on an episode of VICKI which was a talk show with VICKI LAWRENCE that ran just two seasons (1992-94) and on you tube I saw Meredith on the panel of a color ep of WHATS MY LINE that the mystery guest was Merediths dad GORDON. I also saw Meredith on other things including a FAMILY FEUD ep with THE PETTICOAT JUNCTION bunch-FRANK CADY(SAM DRUCKER), LINDA KAYE HENNING(BETTY JO), LORI SAUNDERS( the second BOBBIE JO), GUNILLA HUTTON( the second BILLIE JO) and MEREDITH(the third-and final-BILLIE JO).

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    1. I remember some of Vicki Lawrence's talk show. One of the few I liked in recent memory.

      I haven't seen Rosie yet, but all of the cast members you mention are familiar and favourites. I grew up on the Classic 39 episodes of The Honeymooners and can probably recite them verbatim.

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  9. Fantastic post, not seen this one but you've got my interest, wanting to see more of Russell's earlier work and this a good place to start!

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    1. It will be an excellent place to start. Have fun!

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  10. Speaking of FINISHING SCHOOL earlier I also liked the ending. The mother played by BILLIE BURKE and the headmistress of the school were going on and on about what people would think. Then the husband/dad stepped in and had his say. The headmistress was played by BEULAH BONDI who worked with JIMMY STEWART at least 5 times(I think). She also had a part in A SUMMER PLACE with DOROTHY MCGUIRE, RICHARD EGAN, CONSTANCE FORD, ARTHUR KENNEDY, SANDRA DEE and TROY DONAHUE. Do you know the work of MISS BONDI and MISS FORD?

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    1. Beulah Bondi was an amazing actress. You are right about her connection to Jimmy Stewart. She played his mother often in movies and in his short-lived sitcom.

      Connie Ford is forever in my mind as Ada on Another World, but then I will start to recall all of her wonderful film performances. She did a few Perry Mason's and in one played a woman with a split personality brilliantly.

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  11. I just added this film to my watchlist on the new Criterion Channel streaming service, so it was great to read your thoughts before I see it. Rosalind Russell could do anything, couldn't she?

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    1. She really could do it all, and do it well. She is another who never let us see the work as well.

      I hope you will share your thoughts after seeing Craig's Wife.

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  12. Speaking of BEULAH BONDI she was in the two TAMMY movies with SANDRA DEE-TAMMY TELL ME TRUE(where Tammy is in college) and TAMMY AND THE DOCTOR. Beulah played MRS. CALL, a wealthy widow that Tammy helps. In the first one it has to do with money(like in the ROSALIND RUSSELL-SANDRA DEE movie ROSIE!) where the niece of MRS. CALL is after her money. SANDRA & BEULAH were in A SUMMER PLACE as I mentioned but I cant recall if they had any scenes together, or at least notable scenes. By the way, TAMMY AND THE DOCTOR has a delightful scene with ALICE PEARCE (BEWITCHED) as a nurse telling Tammy about the intentions the interns may have.

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    1. I once came home from a busy day to find the hubby watching A Summer Place. Ever since that day, he yells at Constance Ford every time we see her somewhere else. And they say women get caught up in their soaps!

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