[box cover]

Queen Bee

This 1955 camp-fest may require a love for Joan Crawford that few folks can muster — Queen Bee, directed by Randall McDougall, is for those who stick with Joan through thick and thin, fans who love Possessed and Mildred Pierce, but also are enraptured by Flamingo Road, Autumn Leaves, and The Caretakers, pictures that showcased an older, rather severe woman. Crawford plays Eva Phillips, a deceptively personable woman who lords over a Southern mansion with her husband Avery (Barry Sullivan), whom everyone calls "beauty" for the large scar on his face. Those close to Eva know she's utterly evil and corrupt, but young Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow), a cousin who comes to live in the manor, is not so sure — at first. As the picture makes quite clear (from a character's speech about bees, to another character actually reading a book about bees), Eva is the Queen Bee and those buzzing around are her drones. She will sting anyone who crosses or interrupts her ambitions to get what she wants — which is, apparently, everything. Eventually Jennifer (the one who looked up the bee book) witnesses Eva's machinations, including the destruction of sister-in-law Carol's upcoming nuptials to Judson Prentiss (Betsy Palmer, John Ireland). Judson, for reasons we can only believe to be pure masochism, has been Eva's lover, while Eva has tortured her understandably ill-tempered, drunkard husband. Some terrific arguments, tragedies, notable acting by Crawford and Ireland, and sheer menopausal meltdowns occur, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat. Queen Bee was released to some poor reviews; Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it the "height of mellifluous meanness and frank insincerity." He's right and wrong. Yes, the cruelty is often dished out with sugar (not a bad thing either), but there is something sincere about Queen Bee, chiefly that the actors sincerely appear to be afraid of Ms. Crawford, and that Joan sincerely looks like she understands her character, with lines like the following (which Eva drops on her husband): "Darling, parties are to women what battlefields are to men, but then... you weren't in the war were you? Something about drinking...." And when packing up a room mounts from simply throwing dolls onto the floor to a psychotic crescendo of Joan trashing the place with a riding crop, Crawford doesn't seem to be acting. Watching those thick, painted eyebrows, hunter's-bow mouth, and huge shoulders saunter across a room ready to explode in a rage of bizarre evil is like anticipating Jason creeping around the summer camp in Friday the 13th. No wonder one of Queen Bee's actresses, Betsy Palmer, went on to play Jason's mother in that franchise — she obviously had proper training. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Queen Bee, part of the "Columbia Classics" series, presents a clear anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that flatters Joan's wonderful gowns (provided by Jean Louis), as well as Charles Lang's black-and-white cinematography. But it's hard to miss just how incredibly filtered Crawford was, to the point where she nearly loses her nose in the wrinkle-softening lighting. Audio is in the original mono DD 2.0, and on board are an array of subtitles. Supplements include the film's original theatrical trailer as well as trailers for Suddenly Last Summer and The Last Hurrah. Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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