There was once a time in Hollywood when actors would spit out a large amount of films every year. The greats like Bogart, Bacall and Hepburn all have a large repertoire of films to their credit. While many of these films are forgettable, there were a rather large amount of decently produced movies that while not brilliant certainly hold merit for their respective eras. The Barbara Stanwyck driven crime thriller Crime of Passion is one such example. It mixes the elements of the Woman's Film, melodrama, detective stories and a bit of noir into a well acted and enjoyable movie. Tragically, the film is a bit predictable; however, it is a great piece of cinema that is indicative of the changing face of Hollywood as it transitioned into the 1960's.
Crime of Passion begins in the same vein as His Girl Friday. Barbara Stanwyck is Kathy a respected woman's writer at a San Francisco newspaper who believes in independence over the oppressive traditions of marriage. She is in line to excel at her job until a detective from L.A. named Bill (Sterling Hayden) appears while on call to investigate a murder. Kathy and Bill become instantly smitten finding each others unconventional lifestyles fascinating. In an act of love, Kathy leaves her job to marry Bill and live with him in L.A. Things seem happy from the start, but as Kathy begins to realize the unhappiness of a trapped lifestyle, she desperately plots to escape her living situation. She exploits Bill's boss Inspector Pope (Raymond Burr) in hopes of garnering a promotion for Bill. She uses lies, sex and in the films later scenes murder to assure Bill obtains the job. However, given her illogical actions Bill soon discovers her to be the murderer and arrests her, thus proving that his loyalty will never be to love, but to his job as a cop. Kathy's attempts at advancing her cause ultimately result in an entrapment that is literal as opposed to previously being a metaphor.
The film is a key commentary on gender; at least as far as 1950's films are concerned. It displays the problematic relationship between a dominant husband and submissive wife as were the case well into the 1960's in the United States. Kathy, from the onset, loathes the concept of marriage choosing the loneliness of singlehood over the cage of marriage. However, she foolishly believes that Bill is unlike other men, especially giving his claim to care about her freedom if they were to marry. As becomes apparent, marriage in a 1950's setting meant submissiveness and monotony, often causing women to concern themselves with petty things such as the "perfect dress" for a retirement party. In much darker situations, as is the case with Kathy, this futile lifestyle led to madness, or, to use a sexist term of the era, hysteria. This behavior often resulted in severe depression, self-medication through alcohol, or in the case of this film women being locked away for fear of them lashing out against society. In the theory of the time, Kathy represents a very deviant woman whose desire for freedom is not logical and thus problematic. While this film is enjoyable as a piece of historic cinema, it is nice to know that in most of the United States such feelings of malaise are now treated with legitimate concern and no longer passed off as feminine weakness.
This film is for the serious film history buffs. It is a great little film that is full of action and romance as is required of a good melodrama. It is certainly problematic with its portrayals of marriage and gender, but when all is said and done, it is well worth grabbing a copy for your dvd rack.