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Queen Bee (1955)

A southern mansion and a 1950’s version of Joan Crawford. Just what I need on occasion to get my melodramatic fix. Miss Joan takes center stage in a role as nasty as she’s maybe ever played. A real self centered *%^#* who won’t settle for anything less than complete victory and domination over those around her.

Released by Columbia, our story begins when a young woman looking very much like Ann Blyth (Mildred Pierce), played by Lucy Marlowe, arrives at the Southern homestead. Apparently she’s a cousin to the family and has arrived for an elongated stay. To get the ball rolling she’ll walk right in on a heated discussion between Betsy Palmer and John Ireland.

Before we get to in depth discussing the plot points let’s introduce our cast and their relationship to the Queen Bee.

Of course we have Joan …..

Her husband, Mr. Barry Sullivan.

Barry’s sister / Joan’s sister-in-law, Betsy Palmer.

Betsy’s fiance / Foreman at the Family Mill / Joan’s former lover, John Ireland.

Joan’s young cousin and caretaker for the children, Lucy Marlowe.

…. and we have Fay Wray as a friend to the family who’s lost her way thanks to Joan.

In keeping with a star of her magnitude, the cast will be assembled first in one of the mansion’s luxurious rooms before Joan makes her grand entrance in a perfectly framed shot coming in the doors. What warmth there is in the room quickly evaporates as she begins to cut loose with not so thinly veiled jabs and insults at the characters in our story.

We’ll learn that Joan stole Barry from Fay leaving her jilted at the altar and if you read between the lines in some later dialogue that she tricked Barry into marriage via the phony pregnancy ruse. For his part, Barry’s been drowning himself in a bottle of self pity ever since. Pity that’s only been compounded by a nasty facial scar he sustained in a drunken car accident. At least that’s the story though I have my doubts. Lovely Joan has tagged him with the nickname “Beauty” ever since.

Joan likes to dominate her men and when it comes to her former lover John Ireland, it’s no different. She doesn’t take kindly to the news that he intends to marry Betsy who is clearly no match for the venom and vindictiveness that Joan is capable of spewing. For his part, Ireland, is set on breaking the hold she’s had on him for good.

Sadly this is also a tale of innocence lost if we look at young Lucy. She’s come to the mansion bright eyed and thinking Joan is a beautiful woman and saintly in both look and attitude. That’s going to take a clear turn towards the bottom and is only quickened when Joan smacks her across the face in a sudden act of aggression as she vents her anger and frustrations.

There will come a scene that clearly illustrates that no matter what the screenwriter adds in to the story, Joan really has no redeeming factors and for my money is a screen villain that needs to die before the final curtain falls. No different than Frank Miller arriving off that train at High Noon.

I’m not going to tell you if my wish comes true or not but I will say that I enjoyed how this played out over the final twenty odd minutes. A little twist here and there and maybe salvation for a soul or two.

If you happened to score this film on DVD through the TCM Vault Collection, Joan Crawford in the 1950’s, you’ll love that line in the trailer that describes our Queen Bee …..

All honey on the outside. All Fury on the inside.

In case you’re interested, the other titles included in the collection are Harriet Craig, The Story of Esther Costello and Autumn Leaves.

I can’t say I speak for everyone but a film like this fits right into the Joan Crawford aura that has been peddled to film fans for the past 40 plus years. By that I mean the character within is much the way she’s been portrayed in real life via Mommy Dearest and more recently in Feud : Bette and Joan. Perhaps not fair but that’s the way I’m left to feel when watching her in some of these later roles when her best days were in the rear view mirror.

But damned if I didn’t enjoy this one anyway. Joan still has that star thing happening and I’ve always been a fan of both Barry Sullivan and John Ireland. Why not, they starred in plenty of Noir and western films and their appearance here opposite Joan in a straight drama only adds to their versatility on screen. Both men would appear opposite a number of notable leading ladies yet never attain the stardom awarded to some of their female costars like Crawford, Davis and Stanwyck. Ireland would turn up once again opposite Joan near the end of her run in the William Castle thriller, I Saw What You Did released in 1965.

Joan was in the midst of a good run of titles at this point in her career hanging in there as a marquee name. I say this looking back but I’m not so sure if it was looked upon that way at the time. She had the superior Sudden Fear in ’52, Johnny Guitar in ’54 and Female on the Beach in ’55. The latter film is a hoot for the melodrama that it’s mired in. The roles may have been drying up but she still had Baby Jane ahead and another go around in the thriller genre.

Anyone recognize the name Betsy Palmer? Not sure if it’s fair but I know her for one thing and one thing alone if questioned. A character named Mrs. Voorhees.

Ring a bell? No? She had a son named Jason.

Back to Queen Bee. If the mood strikes you for a black and white 1950’s soap opera with some hysterics thrown in with a cast of recognizable faces then give this one a look. You could do a lot worse.

22 Comments »

  1. I’ve not seen this but I like what you have to say here and I’m certainly not averse to 50s melodrama – another I need to add to my list.
    The only movie from that set you refer to that I have seen is Autumn Leaves, which is a superior movie and one I want to feature at my own place at some point.

  2. I find this film vastly entertaining, and have seen it a number of times. It is by far the best of the films Miss Crawford made in the ‘fifties (compare it against: ‘Torch Song’). I do not put it in the same class of many of the films she made in the ‘thirties and the early ‘forties, when her talent and her beauty were at their zenith. I confess I have never understood why she adopted an often grotesque harsh makeup – and unfeminine hairstyles – in the ‘fifties. In so doing, she obliterated one of the most beautiful faces ever to be seen on film.

      • I do not hold it against her that the quality of her later films was not up to standard – neither would I condemn her for not wanting to retire (if indeed she did not). I do though wish she had managed her money better, so that she could have worked only when she chose to do so.

          • She did drink a great deal, and so did Bette Davis. B.D. Davis in her book: MY MOTHER’S KEEPER, writes that Miss Davis and Gary Merrill would have drunken brawls at half-past nine in the morning, during which many glasses were smashed! (I hold no briefs for B.D. Davis, but I believe this.)

  3. Saw this a long time ago and enjoyed it. Miss Crawford was mesmerizing and captivating. Remembered Betsy Palmer in The Tin Star with Henry Fonda faintly as her role was not that prominent. Best regards.

  4. For what it’s worth when I first read “Betsy Palmer” I thought you were just referencing Jason’s mom and it took me sec to realize that was just the character’s name.

  5. Okay Mike, time to get caught up on your posts! This weekend I’ll be getting to as many as a can…commenting on a few, but mostly ‘liking’ the rest…rest assured, I will be reading each and every one. And like you, I enjoyed this one as well…Joan did a great job playing evil, and I really liked Sullivan’s character. And that shot in the stable…outstanding!

    • Yeah this one works despite all the melodrama tossed at the screen. I’ve always like Barry Sullivan. Another of those forgotten leading men except to the fans of classic film.

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