She is. And it’s called Humoresque. Humoresque is so incredible, in fact, that we can understand its brilliance through a simple mathematic equation, and math is infallible. To wit:
Joan Crawford melodrama+classical music concert numbers=the greatest movie ever. Le duh.
To give you an idea as to just how great it is, here’s a still:
Whoa. Just whoa.
In case you were confused by this picture, Humoresque is a melodrama that stars Joan Crawford. It’s not a comedy, which may come as a surprise given that the title has the word “humor” in it. Language comprehension is hard like that (unlike math).
So Humoresque tells of the doomed romance between alcoholic, married socialite Helen Wright (Joan Crawford) and a talented, driven violinist, Paul Boray (John Garfield). Helen is near-sighted, which isn’t an integral plot-point so much as detail that let’s Joan wear the living hell out of a pair of vintage glasses. Seriously, I want her glasses.
Paul is also loved by his mentor/friend, the self-deprecating homo pianist Sid Jeffers (a fantastic Oscar Levant), but that’s all coded subtext, not a 50s’ version of Brokeback Violin (though that nonsense would fantastic as well). He makes flirtatious jokes with men and seems thoroughly disinterested in woman, so, yeah, he’s gay in my book. And a fabulous piano player.
When it comes to the melodrama transpiring between Joan and John, this movie wears one seriously gonzo pair of crazy pants. Here’s a taste:
A boozy Joan drinking away the sorrows of an impossible love while John Garfield plays Wagner’s “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde, only to through her glass through a door window and then dramatically erupt through said doorway? Can you handle that??? I know I can’t!
This scene also really sums up everything that’s astounding about Humoresque. Joan does some hardcore boozing in that movie (my liver hurts just to think about it), and the music’s simply astounding. Trick camera angles allowed for Isaac Stern to play behind John Garfield, which gives the illusion that it’s John himself playing. Nifty stuff, eh? Added to that, Joan doesn’t even appear in the film ’til 30-some-odd minutes into Humoresque‘s 125-minute running time; oh, and extended portions of the film are dialogue free and narratively driven and informed by the classical music playing. It’s almost as though Mildred Pierce got knocked up by Fantasia and out popped Humoresque. See? I told you this movie was wearing crazy pants.
Those crazy pants the sum and total of this film’s beauty, though. Humoresque already has a strong enough cast and plot to deliver a sturdy, sudsy melodrama that Hollywood’s golden age did so well, but instead we get a movie that insists on something more. The characters are nuanced and psychologically three-dimensional, and the film’s ability to make the performance scenes as dramatically rich as the emotional scenes is an impressive feat.
Also, as my friend Brynn observed after watching Humoresque, this is a movie where Joan has an orgasm by symphonic music.
You and me both, Joan. You and me both.