A Woman's Face ★★★★

There’s a whole series to do on grotesque faces in cinema, or how monsters are made and unmade (I’m thinking of the oddball Peter Lorre in The Face Behind the Mask and Rock Hudson in Seconds, among many others). Joan Crawford (spectacular, if that needed to be said) is in a truly strange role: the femme fatale blooming into a decent human being. The film could be described as early noir-styling (certainly in Crawford’s bribe turned jewel heist gone wrong of the plastic surgeon’s wife’s home—those low key lights!). The flashback structure also fits into the 1941-ness of Citizen Kane, only revealing the character in full about halfway through in a quite striking pose. This question of whether someone’s physical appearance can change their own moral inside is a fascinating and strange one, and Cukor pulls off some pretty fantastic sequences in the snowy hell/paradise: the long beautiful waltz of the Swiss, the intense moral dilemma along aerial tramway, and then finally the sleigh ride horse chase that would rank among the best action sequences I’ve seen outside of John Ford in classical Hollywood. All of this is to some hopeful ideal, but Crawford’s beaming eyes sell the entire thing.

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