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The Story of Esther Costello


"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.

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Reviewer: tommary1962

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 My Fancy).



Reviewer, Danny Fortune, says...

***Warning: Review contains spoilers!

Joan Crawford, as Margaret Landi, gets top billing in this maudlin story about a deaf, blind, mute orphan girl (Heather Sears) she meets in Ireland. Joan, dressed like she was ready to open a Pepsi Bottling Plant in County Down, feels sorry for the little waif and takes her under her wing.

On their first night together, Joan teaches Esther to clap her hands whenever she's got to tee-tee, then promptly enrolls her in the best school for the Deaf and Blind that her money can buy. All doesn't go smoothly at first. In a fit of frustration, the girl has a temper outburst and Joan slaps her face, later claiming, "I didn't mean to slap her, but I had to." Something she must have said about Christina on many an occasion.

Miraculously and unbelievably, Esther learns fast and Joan teaches her the manual alphabet and hand-to-mouth lip reading. Although the plot supposedly revolves around the life of a blind girl, the movie really should have been called "The Story Of Margaret Landi," as the focus keeps reverting to her many wardrobe changes. Eventually Joan's impassioned plea has a favorable benefit on the public and soon the donations start rolling into the "Esther Costello Fund." At that's when the trouble begins.

Margaret's estranged husband, Carlo (Rossano Brazzi), who knows a good opportunity when he sees one, comes out of the woodwork and attempts to gain control of the charitable organization and embezzle its funds. And just like a man, he uses his sex appeal to subdue Margaret and then seduce Esther. Jealousy over Carlo's roving eye and guilt over funneling funds cause Margaret to be suspicious.

By the end of the picture, Carlo rapes Esther and takes her virginity. We can tell by the broken vase and the rainstorm outside. And MIRACULOUSLY Esther regains her sight and hearing!!! Never mind all those years she wasted going to Deaf-Blind School. All she needed was violent SEX to cure her disabilities!

Joan, to her credit, takes hold of the situation and packs a rod, like she did in "Mildred Pierce," "Possessed," and "Flamingo Road." We then hear that she and Carlo were killed in an "auto accident," but we never get to see it.

This isn't Joan's worst picture. After all, she still gets to slap a publicity agent in the face and knock a drink out of Brazzi's hand. But the problem for me, is the plot's credibility. Esther is no more Helen Keller than Margaret is Anne Sullivan. It was directed by David Miller, who also helmed "Sudden Fear" a few years earlier. Another story line I never could believe one word of.

But it was fun to see Bessie Love in a brief cameo appearance as a rich society lady in the art gallery. I also read that Ramon Novarro visited the set. I like to imagine the conversation about the old "Metro" days that these three dynamos must have had behind the scenes.