Crime of Passion (1957) Gerd Oswald
I don’t think it’s possible to see a bad Barbara Stanwyck performance. She breathes fire into every role, every performance, and Crime of Passion is no exception. Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, a wildly popular advice columnist at a San Francisco newspaper. She knows her readers so well that when two detectives (Sterling Hayden, above right and Royal Dano, left) come to the newspaper office looking for a wanted female fugitive, Kathy says she can gain the woman’s trust and lead them to her. And Kathy delivers. One of the detectives, Bill Doyle (Hayden) admires Kathy’s tough-minded independent style and falls for her, as she does for him.
Kathy and Doyle marry and relocate to Los Angeles, where Kathy (having given up a job offer in New York) soon tires of domestic life and the vapid circle of cops’ wives. She more than tires of it; it’s driving her to the point of hysteria. A little bit of hope arrives when Kathy meets the head of Bill’s police division, Police Inspector Tony Pope (Raymond Burr, below), who might be able to give Bill a brighter, better-paying, more secure future. Ah, but then some nastiness creeps in and somebody gets killed…
Crime of Passion is burdened with two problems, one major and the other perplexing. The major problem is that of believability. Kathy is portrayed as such a smart, independent woman, the last thing she would do is give up a great job to marry a man and completely change her lifestyle. That’s just not believable unless the film gives us good reasons for that to happen. It doesn’t and the change happens too quickly and easily for us to accept.
That major problem is closely related to the perplexing one: Bill just isn’t that impressive a guy. Sure, he’s good looking, but this is a role in which Sterling Hayden really doesn’t get to play a normal Sterling Hayden role, but rather a quiet (at least more so than usual for him) unremarkable cop.
Even with those problems, Crime of Passion has plenty of passion, thanks mostly to Stanwyck and a great performance by Raymond Burr, an actor who doesn’t get enough mention for his work in film noir. Most people remember the film (and rightly so) as an examination of women and how their postwar roles dramatically changed. Kathy is trapped in a hell of mediocrity, a carnival of banality that’s sucking the life out of her and Stanwyck’s performance makes us understand – although not necessarily agree with – the things Kathy does.
(Photos: personal screenshots from the film)