Flamingo Road - 1949

Joan Crawford battles political corruption

Flamingo Road - Released May 6, 1949

Deputy Scott: You got any money?

Miss Lane Bellamy/Crawford: Sure, I got three dollars.

Deputy: That isn't very much.

Miss Lane Bellamy: It's a lot when you think about how many times I didn't have three dollars.

Joan Crawford is a carnival worker (she was performing as a member of the "Sultan's favorites" burlesque show) who gets stranded in the Southern town of Boldon City after the second-rate carnival she is working for is chased across state lines for indebtedness, among a host of other infractions.

Living in her tent, listening to the radio and wondering what to do next, she is soon befriended by the town's gloomy, insecure deputy-sheriff (Zachary Scott) who helps her get a job and a place to stay. She is soon inserted into the town's main preoccupations: gossip and political corruption.

In Flamingo Road, Crawford (as Lane Bellamy) has the uneasy task of pursuing basic ethical honesty in a place where even the most admirable fellow (David Brian as wealthy businessman Dan Reynolds) is up to his neck in crooked deals and manipulations. When he is pressed to pursue going straight and serving the people honestly, he counters that there are so many other crooks waiting to push him out of the way that crookedness is the only chance he has off having any influence for good.

This cockeyed reasoning seems reasonable because he is up against Sydney Greenstreet (as Titus Semple), who is an ace manipulator and long-term planner who has slowly built a web of blackmail and stooges across the state that will be used to force his way into the governorship.

Greenstreet plays this Southern gentleman (which has an out of place English accent, but most of the rest of the cast doesn't sound Southern either*) as a likeable, fat, good-ol-boy, only interested in what's best for everyone. That is, until Director Michael Curtis pulls the camera off to the side near the end of scenes and we see Greenstreet's eyes narrow and his lips pinch, giving the impression of being half-snake.

The first two thirds of the film unfold luxuriously in a well-paced, languid way, but so many twists and turns fill up the last section of the movie that the inherent melodrama overpowers the noir. One wishes the movie had an additional ten or so minutes to space out all the revelations and gun-fire.

David Brian (as Dan Reynolds) gets to play a good guy with a heart of gold (though in most other Hollywood situations his character would be considered pretty corrupt). He comes second in the romance sweepstakes behind the glum Zachary Scott (as Fielding Carlisle), who sometimes seems to be about to explode from the pressure of being the heir to a revered Southern family name (he doesn't explode, he just gets drunk). Greenstreet (as Titus) deserves comeuppance, and Crawford will deliver it; she is perfectly cast as a woman who rises from nearly rags to riches.

Whereas that older Southern tale Tobacco Road was about the trials of the working poor at the bottom of the heap, Flamingo Road is about the trials of the well-off people at the top of the heap. In both cases, it's a nasty business staying alive.

* Zachary Scott and Joan Crawford were both born in Texas, which is usually considered a Southern state. Especially when considering it’s historically part of the old Confederacy, and in the general fashion of the cowboy hats that Scott wears while officiating as deputy-sheriff.

Joan Crawford Films

Tramp Tramp Tramp - 1926

Sadie McKee - 1934

The Women - 1939

Strange Cargo - 1940

A Woman's Face - 1941

Flamingo Road - 1949

The Damned Don't Cry - 1950

Sudden Fear - 1952

Original Page Dec 2015 | Updated Dec 2016

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