. . . Crime of Passion

. . .

Movie Comment: Crime of Passion

Butch cabbies
Typical Ferguson readers
One of the problems with neo-noir is that its creators are all self-involved boys, and so (Safe gratefully excepted) have restricted themselves to the basically reassuring narrative clichés of men's noir -- e.g., average Joe drops out of domestic bliss into a nightmare with no escape -- and ignore women's noir, which tended to hit much closer to home.

Precisely at home, in fact. In women's noir, domestic bliss is the nightmare with no escape. And no hard nut ever cracked more exquisitely under the loving pressure of domesticity than Barbara Stanwyck.

In Crime of Passion, Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, a newspaper writer who works hard, loves her job, and is fabulously popular with the very, oh, diverse population of San Francisco. Unluckily, she also lives in 1957, reports to a dismissively sexist boss, and has to deal with uncooperative macho cops and demeaning assignments like the Miss Lonelyhearts column (in which she advises one reader to ditch her two-timing boyfriend and run away with the other woman).

To a fish out of water, a bicycle can start to seem pretty appealing. So when Ferguson meets an undismissive unmacho nice guy cop who adores her (Sterling Hayden, never more puppylike), she understandably decides to do what the movies tell us and take the easy way out into eternal happiness.

And the honeymoon goes well: it's true that mutual love is all you need when love is all you have to deal with. It's normal life that stinks -- 'cause what's the point of mutual support if one partner's content as a cow and the other one's not doing a goddamned thing? Hayden works long hours, and Stanwyck's only social outlet comes in a crushing party scene that none of the film's ensuing shenanigans come close to matching for sheer horror: all the wives interested only in girl talk and all the husbands interested only in pension gossip, and even clamming up about that when Stanwyck invades their turf. At least as a reporter, she was allowed to prod 'em!

Husband   So then she finds herself a hobby.

And I admit that the end results aren't good, but hey, she's engaged -- anything's better than slow suffocation....

Note to historians of film sexuality: This caustic assessment of the high cost of closets was written by Jo Eisinger between Gilda and Oscar Wilde, and directed by Gerd Oswald between A Kiss Before Dying and Screaming Mimi.

Husband Wife


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