An intriguing, thoroughly demented film noir, 1955’s FEMALE ON THE BEACH comes to Blu-Ray from the gang at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics and Universal Studios.
When wealthy, attractive, mature widow Eloise Crandall (the 1950’s perennial movie victim/punching bag Judith Evelyn) falls to her death, it rocks an upscale California beach community. Connected to her unfortunate demise is beach bum Drummond “Drummy” Hall (Jeff Chandler), who seems to have been romantically involved with every being in the vicinity in possession of a uterus. Each lady has also at some point arranged for impressive sums of money to be transferred into the lothario’s bank account.
Drummy’s lifestyle/vocation as God’s grift to women is about to be changed when the next rich femme checks in. Mostly because she’s Joan Crawford, who ain’t taking no shit from no one no how. As Lynn Markham, Crawford’s character is bitter to the max before Drummond even lays a hand on her (which he does, resulting in a monumental traditional Crawford bitch-slap). Still, Hall is more determined than ever. Detectives warn Lynn of his dubious reputation; she scoffs it off with being fully able to handle herself. Worse, we discover that Hall is the living dildo pawn of nouveau riche neighbors, Osbert and Queenie Sorenson (Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer). They subsidize his living large in exchange for a piece of the pay-for-play pie. The sultry local Realtor (Jan Sterling) has her suspicions, as does the lead sleuth (Charles Drake), the latter who finds himself increasingly attracted to Markham.
By the time Hall gets real physical (ripping off Lynn’s dress), Markham’s longing lady parts kick in and she acquiesces to his carnal advances. Is he playing her for the next victim? Is she playing him to satiate her desires? Or is this, as the Coke ads (sorry, Joanie) used to say “the real thing”?
FEMALE ON THE BEACH is one of the most goddamn watchable lurid thrillers ever to be turned out by Universal-International. During the 1950s, U-I offered major stars an offer they couldn’t refuse. Take a cut in salary and share in the profits. It worked, luring actors and actresses that the studio never could have otherwise had a snowball’s chance in hell of signing (James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, Jane Russell, Van Heflin, Lana Turner, Alan Ladd, Anne Baxter and Crawford). Crawford came with a list of demands. She would choose the project and her costar. Snaring FEMALE was brilliant, a sexy role for an aging super name. From the U-I stable, she selected Chandler. “I chose Ira Grossel from Brooklyn, NY,” said Lucille LeSueur from San Antonio, TX. They definitely ignite a flame, apparent from their first frame together. For Crawford, one of the genre’s goddesses (Mildred Pierce, Humoresque, Daisy Kenyon, Possessed, Sudden Fear, etc.), FEMALE ON THE BEACH would be her final noir; suffice to say, she goes out in a blaze of glory.
One iconic Crawford moment makes FEMALE a particular must for every one of her fans. Hall, who really thinks he’s all that, has passkeys to all the local women’s abodes. When an already irritated Markham awakes, she’s pissed-off shocked to find him in her kitchen. The famous Crawford glare instantly spells doom for Chandler. But it gets better. “How do you like your coffee?,” asks the uninvited playboy. Crawford pauses brilliantly before spectacularly replying, “Alone!” in that Joanie way that is the verbal equivalent of a crossbow through his throat. We were all howling at the Neuhaus Bijou, replete with applause. There are other pips in Robert Hill’s and Richard Alan Simmons’ script (from a story by Hill, with uncredited dialog from producer Albert Zugsmith) worth quoting. When the unfortunate Evelyn (recently of Rear Window and soon to embark on The Tingler) careens off the terrace to her demise, Crawford/Markham eyes the still unrepaired railing, then quips “She must have left in a hurry.” Marham’s snarky tune changes (albeit slightly) when she discovers the late woman’s hidden diary, revealing some misogynistic traits and comments displayed by Hall/Chandler (“I don’t hate women, I just hate the way they are.”). The tense climax is fairly unexpected and exciting.
The Blu-Ray of FEMALE ON THE BEACH is excellent, presented in its odd pseudo-scope aspect ratio of 2:1 (SuperScope without the trademark). It’s the first time this movie has been available in these dimensions since its original release. Beautifully shot by Charles Lang, and nicely scored by Heinz Roemheld (with assist from Herman Stein), the pic was professionally directed by Joseph Pevney, an actor turned director, and likely the best of U-I’s mainstream house talent.
It’s important to note that among the extras, the plum is audio commentary moderated by director David DeCoteau. DeCoteau has become one of the kings of the Lifetime Movie Channel. His participation is of interest, as FEMALE ON THE BEACH is essentially the template for every Lifetime Movie ever produced, save with an A-list cast and crew.
FEMALE ON THE BEACH. Black and White. Widescreen [2.00:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K23397. SRP: $29.95.