A Woman’s Face (1941)

Two Faced Woman

I’ve watched A Woman’s Face five times as of writing this review and gets better every time I watch it. I’ve now decided, screw it, this is my favourite Joan Crawford film and considering there’s tough competition from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Mildred Pierce and The Women, that’s saying a lot. Within the last year I’ve felt the motivation to watch A Woman’s Face three times, something which is almost unheard of for me. This movie is that good.

Every major cast member in A Woman’s Face is superb. I know that sounds like a generalization but it’s true. Firstly there’s Conrad Veidt. I adore every second this man is on screen; he’s just so delightfully evil. Yet I can completely buy into the romance he shares with Crawford, not only because he looks past her facial disfigurement and is unbothered by it but because he is so ridiculously charming. I’m swept of my feet by his presence. Melvyn Douglas is the other great charmer of the cast, whom I’ve yet to see paired with an actress who he didn’t share great chemistry. Ossa Massen, Reginald Owen, Albert Bassermann, Marjorie Main (unrecognisable here) and Donald Meek are also all equally memorable and stand out in their roles.

Of course there’s Crawford herself in a once in a life time role as a facially disfigured woman, a part few actresses would be prepared to play. Her character of Anna Holm only engages in deceitful acts because of society’s mistreatment of her since childhood but is otherwise good at heart. Throughout the film my heart pours out for the poor woman and yet even with the disfigurement I still find Crawford to be incredibly beautiful in this film.

A Woman’s Face is one of the few thrillers George Cukor directed, with echoes of Hitchcock throughout, such as the shots of the smelter plant and a waterfall in the background (similar to the scenery in films such as Foreign Correspondent), to the film’s suspenseful scenes such as that atop the cable car or the final climax. Since I consider this film far superior to Hitchcock’s thriller offering that year of, Suspicion, Cukor out Hitchcocked Hitchcock. With Cukor being one of the great masters of his trade, the cinematography of A Woman’s Face is a feast for the eyes. Technically speaking, the scenes at the hospital and Anna’s subsequent unbandageing are my favourite part of the film. Along with A Woman’s Face and the 1934 medical drama Men In White, makes me wonder if it’s just me or do medical interiors and apparatuses make for superb subjects to capture on film.

Being a remake of a Swedish film, there’s something somewhat unconventional about A Woman’s Face for a Hollywood film. The movie does manage to capture the essence of its Northern European setting, despite much of the cast supporting American accents.

I consider 1941 to be the greatest year in history of cinema. The output of this single year is the jealous vain of entire decades. A Woman’s Face just adds to this. Melodrama seems to have a bad reputation for no good reason. Like many things it can be done well and done poorly. A Woman’s Face represents the old Hollywood melodrama tailored to perfection.

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