Queen Bee (1955)

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In this soapy melodrama, Joan Crawford plays the Eva, a controlling narcissist who makes everyone around her utterly miserable, who traps people with secrets, verbal abuse and threats, and causes a few deaths, including her own. We’re introduced to this family and toxic environment through the entry character, Jen (Lucy Marlow) Eva’s young cousin who comes down South to visit the Phillips mansion. Innocent, grateful, sensitive Jen is initially shocked by the family’s “mean” treatment of Eva, and totally charmed by the glamorous matriarch’s larger-than-life personality and insincere generosity and sweetness. Soon the “queen bee”–as candid sister-in-law Carol (Betsy Palmer) calls Eva–stings Jen and the ingenue’s eyes are suddenly “wide open” to reality, a moment Eva’s long-suffering, dejected, and hard-drinking husband Avery (Barry Sullivan) predicted.

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Jen then learns their histories and witnesses the many ways in which Carol and Avery, plus Carol’s fiance Jud (John Ireland) are Eva’s badly damaged, bitter victims, struggling to break free, fearful of her disproportionate reactions and increasingly willing to die rather than live another day in her clutches. After Eva’s cruel meddling causes tragedy, Jen could flee, but stays on, and through her growing attachment to Avery and to Eva’s two troubled kids, and her defiance of a nasty governess, Jen shifts the dynamic enough to nudge Avery and Jud toward actions that fulfill a child’s prophetic nightmare and satisfyingly end Eva’s reign of terror.

This is meaty, campy material with a fine cast for Eva to work her evil on. They’re unpredictable and sympathetic as they stew in the tension, and exchange some great barbs with their tormentor. Naturally, Crawford does wonders with all Eva’s angles: she’s vain, threatened by youth and beauty, with shame enough to hate the sight of herself, signaled by her love/hate relationship with mirrors (there’s a great bit where she smears cold cream on one to cover her sobbing reflection). She knows and admits she’s not nice, but skilled manipulation is her way of getting and keeping what she wants, so she goes on belittling people, invading their personal space, literally walking all over their puny plans, overstepping every boundary, insisting everything revolve around her and orchestrating matters to ensure they do. The first scary outburst where Eva lets her true colours fly with Jen is a textbook example of guilting people; Eva goes wild with a riding whip, casts herself as victim in her version of the truth, then claims to be dependent on Jen, deeply hurt by her non-existent selfishness and cruelty and asks her to prove her loyalty. Eva is used to these tactics working on decent people, so when one of them finally says a simple but firm “no,” it feels like an earthquake.

This post is part of The Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click here to read more about Joan and her films.

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10 thoughts on “Queen Bee (1955)”

  1. Omigosh, I’ve been thinking about this movie lately (or maybe I was thinking about Barry Sullivan), which I haven’t seen in ages. I think I was 14 or so and thought it was oh-so-dramatic and would I ever get to dress that way.

    You have the best time watching movies, Kristina.

    1. Thanks, I certainly had a blast watching this one! Barry Sullivan’s been in a lot of my viewing lately: The Gangster, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, The Unknown Man…really enjoy him. Yes, Joan’s fashions are super in this, she glides in wearing some amazing things for just a tea! Doesn’t make anyone happier to see her though.

    1. There’s a line in this, about her being “[something] on wheels,” perfect! Such fun to see her tear it up and then get hers, you can tell she had a blast playing it.

  2. Hi Kristina. Sorry for the late reply. I haven’t been on my blog much lately due to battling illness. However I’m coming back into the fold now, and announcing blogathons etc. and continuing on with blogging. I must say this post was well the worth the wait, and I’m glad you enjoyed this movie.

    Also, I would love to invite you to join in on my latest blogathon that I’ve just announced. The link is below with more details.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/announcing-the-agnes-moorehead-blogathon/

    1. No problem and thanks for the invite! if I can manage it I will join in. This was a fun blogathon and I loved having the chance to see Joan in this role. Hope you feel better!

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