"This was my last really top picture, and frankly, if I think I deserved an Oscar for "Mildred Pierce" I deserved
two for "Esther Costello."~Joan Crawford
"The Story of Esther Costello" 1957
Cast: Joan Crawford ~Rossano Brazzi~Heather Sears~Lee Patterson~Ron Randell~Fay Compton~John Loder~Denis O'Dea~Sidney
James~Bessie Love~Robert Ayers~Maureen Delaney~Harry Hutchinson~Tony Quinn~Janina Faye~Estelle Brody~June Clyde~Sally Smith~Diana
Day~Megs Jenkins~Andrew Cruikshank~Victor Rietti~Sheila Manahan.
Director & Producer: David Miller
Costumes by Jean Louis
Box Office Figures for "The Story of Esther Costello":
Top Grossing Film Position: Ranked #89 out of 109 films.
Gross Rentals: $1,100,000.
If you have seen this movie, please write a review below. Once your review is submitted, I will post the review below.
Thank you for your review on this film.
Review: Based on the book by Nicholas Monsarrat, Esther Costello is (as has been stated elsewhere) part "Miracle
Worker" and part "Elmer Gantry", although Esther Costello predates both. Although not without some unrealistic
moments (the problem with nearly every film ever made), the film most certainly captures some of the reality of the life of
a blind person and of charity huckstering very well.
Those people who are knowledgeable about the blind always rate this film very highly, sometimes more so that the more
famous "Miracle Worker," which some consider overwrought and not very accurate despite being based on a true story.
Esther Costello was well researched, with the scenes at the school and the Braille being very accurate (Crawford learned Braille
in order to present this aspect accurately). Although condensed, it is clear that Esther's learning took place over a period
of many months, perhaps years (one has to use some logic here, if not, it would appear that she learns in a matter of days!).
Another sadly true aspect of the film is her rape. Many times I have listened to stories about the lives of blind woman and
women with other disabilities who have been taken advantage of by parents or relatives, schoolmates, and spouses. In 1956
when the film was made, a rape scene was all but unheard of. Although it appears somewhat heavy handed today, the scene where
the French doors blow open to let a torrent of rain into the room does not, in my opinion, undermine the seriousness of the
film as a whole. Despite what some rather idiotic people have stated elsewhere, it is not the rape itself that brings Esther
back her sight and speech, it is the great shock of the violence; a violence even greater than the accident which initially
made her blind and mute.
Some claim the film lacks credibility (this is often the case with Possessed (1947). People cannot imagine a woman going
back to a man like Brazzi. However, very often women (and men) go back again and again to unhealthy relationships, and often
leave on bad relationship only to fall into another equally corrosive one.
Crawford and Sears handled their roles exceedingly well. Sears received a BFTA nomination for Best Actress, and Crawford
a special citation for her contribution in the film and one for her career as a whole.
While I agree that more emphasis on social commentary (making the film more of a message movie and less of a melodrama)
and less on melodrama would have been welcome, Esther Costello's off-beat and interesting tone make for some great moments
and set the film above some of Crawford's other 1950's films (Female on the Beach, Queen Bee, Damned Don't Cry and Goodbye
Stars: Three and a half out of four stars
Review: "The Story of Esther Costello" holds one of Joan Crawford's finest latter day performances and demonstrates
how criminally she was underrated and mishandled throughout much of her career by being handed substandard scripts when, given
the chance to showcase her talent properly, she was a very fine actress indeed. The film begins in Ireland when a little
girl, Esther Costello (Janina Faye), is left blind, deaf and dumb after accidentally setting off explosives in a root cellar.
When a wealthy American socialite Margaret Landi (Crawford) visits Ireland on vacation and runs across Esther, now a young
woman (played by Heather Sears), unkempt and crawling around like a wild animal, she is horrified by such neglect and is convinced
ultimately to take the girl under her care. Working with Esther to learn how to communicate simple needs, Margaret succeeds
in making breakthroughs and later sets up a charitable foundation to raise money for further research and aid for the blind.
Margaret's wild success in this fund-raising enterprise attracts the attention of her husband Carlo (Rosanno Brazzi) from
whom she is separated. Carlo insinuates his way back into Margaret's life and love, but shortly it becomes clear that his
motives are not sincere. Not only is he in league to squander and embezzle funds from Margaret's charitable organization,
but he is also taking more than fatherly notice to the shapely, young Esther.
Although this is a fine drama with overall strong and even stellar performances, there are a few implausibilities and
some dubious choices in the script, none of which sink the film however. For instance, it is questionable whether Esther
could have survived the magnitude of the explosion that opened the film, rather than merely being left blind, deaf and dumb.
There is also a scene in which Margaret discovers Carlo intently watching Esther undressing from another room, unaware that
Margaret has returned, and Margaret angrily wraps Esther in a towel and shakes her, saying, "You little fool!"
Esther is left shaken and bewildered by this sudden rage on the part of her benefactress, and afterwards Margaret begs Carlo
tearfully to go away with her alone and abandon the foundation. She wants to also get Esther out of the picture by placing
her in college. This seems cold and out of character on the part of the benevolent Margaret. She seems far too competent
and confident a woman to be reduced to such desperation and even cruelty by a man she had already separated from once. The
ending is also an unfortunate misstep, again allowing Esther to destroy herself rather than simply own up to the truth and
place the blame where it belongs when confronted by Esther's boyfriend. Yet somehow the integrity of the performances and
the serious issues raised by the script, including the corruptible nature of charitable foundations, overcome any far-fetched
film contrivances and keep things believable. Only the ending truly disappoints.
Crawford is amazing as Margaret Landi. In the opening sequences, she is almost too sweet and benevolent yet when Rosanno
Brazzi enters the scene, her performance takes off. The scene where Margaret first notices Carlo's designs on Esther is devastating.
Crawford proves herself to be at the peak of a mature and considerable talent. She hits all the right notes, as the saying
goes, and allows the action to pack a punch as a result of her believability. This is one of her performances that surely
warranted an Oscar. Heather Sears is fine as the young girl and Rosanno Brazzi is well cast as the husband, suave and handsome
enough to make a great oily manipulator. But Crawford is the best of them all. She also looks terrific, her charm and charisma
right on the money for fundraising success.
It's too bad the ending wasn't worthy of the actress and the character both. Overall, a fine drama, a story about a wild
blind child and her teacher like "The Miracle Worker" but with its own separate and powerful identity.