"I've heard this title (Queen Bee) used to describe me, personally, and it isn't altogether flattering."~Joan Crawford
"Queen Bee" 1955
Cast: Joan Crawford ~Barry Sullivan~Betsy Palmer~John Ireland~Lucy Marlow~William Leslie~Fay Wray~Katherine Anderson~Tim
Hovey~Linda Bennett~Willa Pearl Curtis~Bill Walker~Olan Soule.
Director: Mr. MacDougall
Producer: Jerry Wald
Costumes by Jean Louis
Box Office Figures for "Queen Bee":
Top Grossing Film Position: Did not rank.
Gross Rentals: less than $1,000,000.
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I'd seen "Queen Bee" several times at retro festivals and frankly had only vague memories of it. Revisiting
it, I found it completely different than I expected and also at variance with what I've read about it. Based on a novel by
Edna Lee, the story centers around Eva Phillips (Joan Crawford), a superficially gracious, manipulative woman married to a
wealthy mill owner, brooding alcoholic Avery (Barry Sullivan) whose scarred face has earned him the nickname of Beauty. When
ingénue Jennifer (the mealy-mouthed Lucy Marlow) comes to stay with the family in their surreally extravagant Southern mansion
at cousin Eva's request, she walks right into the hive of dark secrets with Eva administering the stings left and right.
Although much is made of the severe look Crawford adopted during the 50's, here, at approximately 51 years old, she looks
quite lovely and exudes charm, vitality and feminine seductiveness, garbed in Jean Louis fashions (which seem to change minutely)
and apparently much of her own jewelry. Crawford is such a powerhouse presence at this stage in her career that all she has
to do is enter a room to command full attention. The rest of the cast float like satellites in her orbit. She also (gotta
love her) makes us understand why Eva feels so trapped and lonely in this house and the opposition she's against, which a
lesser actress would not have done. When Eva surveys her family's glum, malevolent faces in the living room as they fall silent
upon her entrance and says, "My, how cozy you all look," one can't help rooting for her defiance. To my mind, she's
the most sympathetic character in the film and becomes more so, not less so, as the plot progresses.
Ultimately the family's dirty laundry is aired, such as it is. Carol Lee (Betsy Palmer), Avery's sister, is secretly engaged
to Judson Prentiss (a perpetually surly John Ireland) who apparently had a tryst with Eva in Chicago ten years ago. For some
unexplainable reason, Jud seems to feel much animosity towards Eva over this affair, presumably because she left him for Avery
who left Sue McKinon (Fay Wray), his fiancée, "at the altar" for Eva. According to embittered Avery, Eva "tricked"
him into marriage by getting pregnant and engaging his nobler family sensibilities (although given the ages of the children,
this shoots the above theory about Jud). This jilting resulted in fragile Sue going off her nut. All too predictably, the
two men blame Eva for having seduced them with that double standard going back to Eve and Adam and the apple. She is tarnished
as the temptress as they wallow in self-pity and resentment. Eva tries to seduce Jud again (off-camera Crawford was having
an affair with Ireland) as his engagement to Carol is announced and fails, but when she hints to Carol Lee that Jud is not
lily pure, it so upends Carol that Carol hangs herself immediately. What fragile grapes grow on these vines! It seems the
other women are more emotionally imbalanced and given to madness than the script wants us to believe Eva is.
In fact, in spite of the attempt to frame Eva as the catty troublemaker deserving of scorn, Crawford gives her enough
dimension and emotion to be understandable, to my mind. When she slaps sugary little Jennifer as Jennifer gloats over a coup
for Carol and Jud, it's delicious. Hypocritically, "good girl" Jennifer has already made the moves on "long-suffering"
Avery. Eva fails to seem "villainous," much less evil, to me, since she periodically lets show her own isolation
and seems genuinely eager to connect with Jennifer plus has some conscience. When Eva discovers that Carol has committed suicide,
she is evidently upset, smearing the mirror with cold cream and refusing to look at herself in the mirror thereafter, although
to my mind, her behavior was not responsible for such an extreme reaction. The much-heralded scene with the riding crop is
not particularly violent and is actually almost poignant. As Eva pushes a few items on the floor with her crop, she doesn't
go haywire but explains bitterly to Carol where her acerbic sting originated (the self defense), at one point saying, "You
don't know the things they made me do, trying to protect myself." Only Dunaway in "Mommie Dearest" committed
herself to cross-eyed histrionics in her caricature of Crawford (many images culled apparently from Crawford films), although
Crawford herself, preferring to be liked onscreen, never allowed even her hardest characters to be quite without sympathy.
Consequently, the most disturbing thing about "Queen Bee" involves the mentality embodied by lines like "If
she were mine, I would beat her" said by Jud of Eva (imagine a woman making that implication to a wife about her husband)
as if under any circumstances, wife beating were justifiable and spouses were "property." This sort of misogynistic
message was rampant particularly in the 1950's with the female sexual aggressor being inevitably punished and massacred like
the lesbian vampire hellcats in Hammer films at the birth of women's liberation. Even more disturbing to me is that audiences
are being asked to accept (and do) that Eva's adultery is worthy of her being burned like a witch and is in fact, a worse
crime than the diabolical murder that husband and ex-lover plot against Eva. It feels more unfair, in fact, when one sees
that Eva is genuinely eager to reconcile with her husband and reveals the real shocker that he has not been "her husband"
to her for quite some time, making his anger at her recent flirtations all the more puzzling and hypocritical. It is even
hinted that apparently he tried to kill her by automobile in the past which led to his scar. Who is the truly scary person,
Besides, how can anyone not like a woman who spouts lines like:
"Do sit down, Jud. I never thought of you as a gentleman." And: "Jen, you really must learn to join
in conversations. Otherwise you give such a mousy impression." And: "Really, that Dr. Pearson, he's so absurd.
He actually trembles when I talk to him. You'd think he'd never seen a beautiful woman before." And my favorite to
Ty Harding: "Don't tell me you're finally going to succumb to my fatal charm."
In any case, I'll take the sassy sister Eva (as played with such exquisite bitchery by Crawford) any day. A preferred
ending would have been for Eva to get a chance to rebuild her marriage and for Jennifer to get one more double slap and be
Pet moment: Crawford kittenishly wrapping a telephone cord around Ireland's neck.
Stars: 5 stars
Review: Joan as Eva and Barry Sullivan as Avary, Eva's husband, so great together in this entertaining movie. Joan playes
Eva ever so well and Eva is a very trong character in this movie and I would say this movie is really all about her even
though there are other people in the movie lol. I also love this character as well as many other Crawford characters.