Jean Negulesco (U.S., 1947)
The pairing of John Garfield and Joan Crawford perfectly encapsulates the eccentric brilliance of this melodrama. Garfield’s Paul Boray is a working-class child prodigy who rises to fame after Crawford’s married, upper-crust Helen Wright takes him on as both project and lover. Paul, unapologetically self-absorbed, caring only for music and pleasure, has no problem accepting Helen’s money or semi-maternal ministrations, but Helen, finally convinced of the “impossibility” of their relationship (having been helpfully advised on this point by Paul’s dowdy, disapproving mother), comes to believe she must give him up. In a colossal finale, Helen wanders the beach in a glittering sequined gown, drawn to the shimmering black waves, tormented by inner voices of doom that give way to an ecstatic crescendo of the violin Paul plays elsewhere. We know she is lost, but we cannot as easily know whether she longs for the man or for the voice of desire his music represents.
• Written by Clifford Odets, Zachary Gold, based on the short story by Fannie Hurst. Photographed by Ernest Haller. With Joan Crawford, John Garfield, Oscar Levant, J. Carrol Naish. (125 mins, B&W, 16mm, permission Warner Bros.)