January 19, 2022

Flamingo Road (1949)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Michael Curtiz
Stars: Joan Crawford, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott

What it's about. Joan Crawford works in a carnival that travels from town to town. One day she decides not to go with it, though she has no Plan B. Except that, for some reason, she is determined not to leave Boldon, her new small town in rural Florida.

Deputy sheriff Zachary Scott takes a platonic romantic interest in her, and gets her a job as a waitress. This annoys Scott's mentor, powerful politician Sydney Greenstreet, who instead wants Scott to marry well-to-do and respectable Virginia Huston. Greenstreet intends to make Scott into a state senator, and eventually his puppet Florida governor.

Greenstreet frames Crawford for a soliciting charge. Nonetheless, upon release from prison, Crawford manages to get a job with Gladys George, whose club is frequented by state politicians. There, she meets David Brian, a local construction magnate who believes in "clean" government, instead of the corruption and graft favored by Greenstreet.

Soon, Crawford and Brian marry. Meanwhile, Scott descends into alcoholism and depression until both wife Huston and kingmaker Greenstreet dump him. Scott commits suicide. Greenstreet decides to run for Florida governor himself, and is opposed by Brian. Greenstreet frames Brian for graft. Crawford tracks down Greenstreet at George's club, where they wrestle over Crawford's gun. Now both Scott and Greenstreet are dead, but somehow it's a happy ending for both Crawford and David Brian.

The film is based on a 1946 play by Robert Wilder, which in turn was based on Wilder's 1942 novel. Wilder is also the screenwriter. In 1980, the movie was adapted into a television series

How others will see it. Crawford was Oscar nominated for Best Actress just the year before for Possessed, so her star turn here was passed over by the Motion Picture Academy. Despite a glowing review in Variety, Flamingo Road seems to have caused little stir, and may be most noteworthy as the movie debut of fourth-billed David Brian.

But today at imdb.com, Flamingo Road has a respectable 2800 user votes. By comparison, Virginia Huston's next movie, The Doolins of Oklahoma, has only 480 user votes. The user ratings for Flamingo Road range from 7.3 for those under age 30, to 6.6 among women over 45. Older women may disapprove of Zachary Scott's downfall, particularly when formula dictates that Crawford and Scott end up together.

The user reviews are predominantly favorable. The consensus is that Classic Hollywood and a tawdry plot go well together.

How I felt about it. The director of Flamingo Road was Michael Curtiz, whose most famous movie is of course Casablanca. Curtiz also directed Mildred Pierce, which won Joan Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar. It is understandable why Crawford would want to work with Curtiz again, and indeed, it is a plum role for Crawford.

She was 43 at the time, too old, really, for her role, although Crawford carries a trim figure and gives a standout performance. She is ably supported by the some of the best Warner Bros. contract players, notably Greenstreet, a memorable character actor from the 1940s.

Greenstreet's first film, The Maltest Falcon, remains his most notable appearance, though he was also in Casablanca. The aging and overweight actor was beset with health problems by 1949, and made only one more movie, Malaya, before passing in 1954.

As for Flamingo Road, it is two-thirds of a very good film, but the last half hour is comparatively disappointing. We don't understand why Zachary Scott falls apart completely. He feels guilt over his devil's bargain with Greenstreet, but it seems unlikely that the guilt would take him down so far, so fast.

We also wonder why Crawford is so determined to stay in Belton, where she will always live under the oppression of the malevolent Greenstreet. Crawford is scandalized by the shootings of both Scott and Greenstreet, yet she is suddenly in the clear and back in the good graces of her husband. The conclusion seems rushed, with the Production Code no doubt helping to force Curtiz' hand. Greenstreet as the heavy (no pun intended) must be punished for his evildoing, while loyal wife Crawford her honest husband must be exonerated. Never mind that Crawford pulling a gun on Greenstreet is a felony, perhaps even under modern "Stand Your Ground" gun-friendly laws.