Flamingo Road

Flamingo Road ★★★★★

"No matter how many times you see it, you just can't believe its real."

Crawford vs Greenstreet is my Rocky vs Apollo, my Godzilla vs Mothra, my Batman vs Joker. While the production is uneven in several ways, (scattershot plot, limping third act,) the energy of these two titans doing battle outweighs all other considerations.
In the middle of an incredible reinvention at Warners, Joan Crawford was assigned this project over another she was angling for as pushback for bad on-set behavior, which she had gotten into the habit of using as leverage to make sure everything in a production was working in her favor. It's a punishing role that forces her through a huge number of transformations and hairpin turns.
Weak-chinned Zachary Scott is good as Greenstreet's lackey, and David Brian is commanding as Crawford's big shot second love interest. This and The Damned Don't Cry a year later make a powerful one-two punch for him. (I sit in wonderment at the way he's constantly being referred to as ugly in both films. He's not!) Gladys George, Gertrude Michael and Fred Clark are a hoot as well.
I'm fascinated by the film's politics, which offer a deeply cynical illustration of backroom deals being business as usual, and seem to say that the best we can hope for in America is that the shady scumbags who grasp for power over us may have some little bit of conscience. When is the last time Hollywood portrayed a vision this explicitly damning of power or law enforcement? It's worth questioning why we almost never see it anymore. It's impossible to imagine even a Buford T. Justice showing up in a movie in 2023.
Curtiz is hit or miss for me, but he remains in firm control here. The sensationally snappy dialogue and swift Warner's pace cover a lot of sins. Robert Wilder's book is reportedly much more prurient but it's not hard to read between the lines.
But ultimately this film is all about the main event. Greenstreet's corpulence is mythic, far beyond the fat jokes. Constantly gulping buttermilk and wiping sweat off his combover, he's as repulsive as Jabba the Hut. When Virginia Huston comes to him with her marriage woes late in the film, and he condescendingly runs his thumb over her lips, you can see her whole body shudder with barely-contained revulsion. Crawford's tired circus floozie is the perfect foil. Some say she's pushing it age-wise with this role but I think she's perfect; been around the block fighting off shitty men for decades and ready for a final standoff, with nothing left to lose. It never gets old for me.
While I'm glad to have this on blu at long last, I'm disappointed that Warner Archive did little more than slap the same 'night at the movies' extras onto the disc. I generally try to avoid buying Warner Bros. discs, in protest of their ongoing censorship of Ken Russell's The Devils, but sometimes it can't be avoided. If this had been presented with a bit more care and more informative extras, I might feel less guilty about it.

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