Autumn Leaves ★★★½

As gonzo ‘50s-melodramas go, this is a notch less subversive than something like Bigger Than Life, yet it still shocks with its radical mid-film switch from extended (if aggressive) meet-cute to full-blown exercise in sadism. Joan Crawford, as an aging Hollywood typist who’s finding herself left behind by the world, makes the most of her star persona and turns in one of her finest performances. At once, she conveys both her sense of romantic longing and her dawning sense of alarm about the unctuous young man (Cliff Robertson) who fixates on her. As the film unexpectedly swerves into the same psychosexual territory as Marnie, Aldrich ramps up his presence, canting camera angles and deploying noir lighting.

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