Queen Bee

Queen Bee, 1955: In some ways this might be the "ultimate" Joan Crawford melodrama because it has a character so evil and nefarious she seems like she could hold her own in a competition with Count Dracula. On the other hand the story gives us a sympathetic underlying pathology that seems to excuse, as only a Hollywood film can, a great number of sins in the name of peer pressure, marital pressure, friendship pressure, and finally cultural pressure (the story is set in the Deep South, though the accents are decidedly from somewhere else). As Crawford's character says when confronted about her behavior by the visiting "Miss Jennifer" (played by Lucy Marlow):

"I'm an outsider! They hate outsiders! Oh, they're polite enough, that's how they are. You don't know the things they've made me do trying to protect myself. And how ashamed I've been sometimes because of them. You don't know how they are. But, you'll find out!"

Self-hate is also a component of what's on the screen, and in between skewering everyone around her with verbal allusions, Crawford gets a few scenes of looking at herself in a mirror and being horrified at what she's become. I guess that counts for a softening of the sharp edges around the character of Eva Phillips, wife of wealthy Avery Phillips (played by Barry Sullivan) and the story suggests that if Mr. Phillips would just give Mrs. Phillips the proper attention (and restraints) their world would be a happier and safer place, and safety here means preventing the fatalities that follow in Eva's wake.

The darkness that should shroud the movie is competing with the 1950's style of histrionic film melodrama so there is a certain amount of suspended disbelief required to enjoy Queen Bee. The overheated pressure that seems to be crushing most of the main characters under the weight of lies and compromises for the sake of appearances also makes for a picture where truth is a rare commodity, along with the courage to face it (which, in a way, is the core struggle of Crawford's character, however diabolical she seems in her cruelties.)

The music in Queen Bee by George Duning is lush and expansive and how it envelopes the story reminds me of the same kind of aural packaging that helped make later films like Summer Place and Peyton Place succeed.


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Original Page May 13, 2024 | Updated May 22, 2024