Harriet Craig (1950)

Harriet Craig (1950) is a neurotic woman lady noir with high drama, rudeness and female perfectionism ramped to its psychological worst.

The story stars Joan Crawford and Wendell Corey and it is impossible to look away from either. 

Joan Crawford plays Harriet who is the suggestive opposite of the lousy husband, her husband is pretty nice, while she however is destructively controlling about everything, and in the manner of the human comedy, she explores the fringes of madness in the bourgeois dream, and is representative of a kind of stylistic madness.

Harriet Craig was directed by Vincent Sherman, produced by William Dozier, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. Harriet Craig is the second of three cinematic collaborations between Sherman and Crawford, the others being The Damned Don't Cry (1950) and Goodbye, My Fancy (1951).

This lady noir is based on a 1925 play called Craig’s Wife which was a Pulitzer Prize winner for writer George Kelly in 1925, and the two previous film versions were both titled Craig's Wife, the first a 1928 silent film directed by William C. DeMille (Cecil B. DeMille's brother), and the second a 1936 film directed by Dorothy Arzner and starring Rosalind Russell.

The noir update however is the final update to Craig’s Wife. Playwright George Kelly was the uncle of famed Hollywood actress Grace Kelly. 

Harriet Craig is the wife of Walter Craig, an upper-class Manhattan businessman. They live in a household with Walter's aunt Miss Austen, and their servants Maizie and Mrs. Harold. 

Joan Crawford in Harriet Craig (1950)

Harriet is a domineering and bosses the servants around, freezes out Walter's friends, and does take extreme advantage of a meek ― but not lousy ― husband. She is cold to her niece Ethel, who has arrived at the Craig household in emotional distress about her mother, Harriet's sister, who is in a hospital with heart disease. 

Further stress is brought into the home when it appears that Walter may be implicated in a scandalous murder case. However what motivates Harriet is yet to be seen and she sabotages where we she can as well, like a femme fatale to herself, as only she can be her own eventual let down.

Harriet is frank about why she married to get a household and security, with love having nothing to do with it. Her actions are explained as follows — her own mother was dumped for a second wife, leaving Harriet and her sister with nothing — and this nothing appears to have made them and her cold and selfish.

The lot of the plot concerns Harriet's efforts to become a psychopathic woman. Film noir can make fanciful and earnest use of psychopathy when it wants to and make a psychopathy of anything. Psychological reasons are offered for Harriet’s behaviour, btu there are no psychiatrists her in the wild. 

Sublimated hysteria noir tapped into the woman’s picture, and as bitch harpy and emotional destroyer, Joan Crawford expels everything at the screen, presumably creating a monster and bridging the woman’s picture noir divide.

The woman’s picture is a thing ― The Woman’s Picture, so-called ― the ‘woman’s’ picture ― as an item of certain generic form and content lasted from 1930 to 1960 during Hollywood’s golden age. In women’s pictures women often transgressed constant and invariable social norms, and produced romances, domestic stories, stories of madness, lady noir, female-seeker noir, paranoid woman noir, and scheming neurotic lady film noir, as here with Harriet Craig.

Wendell Corey in Harriet Craig (1950)

Trying to define the women’s picture in genre terms can be difficult. There was even some Technicolor noir like Leave Her to Heaven (1946), starring Gene Tierney, as well as superior drama like like Now, Voyager (1942) about a woman and mental illness. And even Gone With the Wind (1939), which for all its excitement and excess, is normatively the story of Scarlett O’Hara’s moving from girlhood to womanly independence.

Themes are present as is form and style, and a woman’s picture will always focus centrally on the psychology of and social life of a woman, so it is always one lady’s cinematic universe we visit, with costume and character aligned, as to what her controlling impulses are.

Wendell Corey in Harriet Craig (1950)

Is Harriet Craig a true film noir and if so, then in what senses of the phrase are we applying our opinion? Sure, kid, grab a seat, light up a smoke, and let me spin you a yarn about a dame named Harriet Craig. 

She was trouble, a real piece of work. The kind of dame who could charm the devil himself but leave you colder than a winter night in Chicago.

Harriet lived in a swanky joint, high ceilings, plush carpets, the whole nine yards. But behind those fancy curtains, she was running a tight ship, and I don't mean the kind that sails on calm seas. No, this dame was the captain of her own storm, and she ruled her roost with an iron fist.

Allyn Joslyn in Harriet Craig (1950)

See, Harriet had this fella, Walter, wrapped around her perfectly manicured finger. He was a successful cat, making the green, bringing home the bacon. But Harriet wasn't satisfied with just the bacon; she wanted the whole damn farm.

K.T. Stevens and William Bishop in Harriet Craig (1950)

Walter was blinded by love, or maybe it was something else – fear, perhaps. Harriet was a puppeteer, pulling strings and making Walter dance to her tune. She'd sweet-talk him one minute, and the next, she'd be laying down the law like a crooked cop.

Harriet's house was a fortress, and she guarded it like a mob boss guards his stash. She had a tight grip on everything – the finances, the social life, even the poor sap's friendships. Nobody crossed Harriet Craig and got away with it.

But trouble was brewing. Walter started waking up to the fact that he was living in his own personal prison. The dame's sweet nothings were turning into bitter pills, and he couldn't swallow them anymore. He had a choice to make – stick with the devil he knew or risk it all for a shot at freedom.

The tension escalated like a slow burn, and the air was thick with betrayal. Lies and secrets were piling up, and the shadows in that house grew darker by the day. It was a noir nightmare, and the climax was inevitable.

In the end, Walter couldn't take it anymore. He broke free from Harriet's clutches, walked away from the gilded cage she had built. But you know how these stories go, kid. Freedom comes at a cost, and the scars of Harriet Craig lingered like a bad hangover.

Joan Crawford in Harriet Craig (1950)

So, that's the tale of Harriet Craig, a noir masterpiece where love, control, and deception collide in a deadly dance. Keep your eyes peeled, kid – in this city, there's always another story waiting to be told.

William Bishop in Harriet Craig (1950)

Harriet Craig, initially a triumph on the hallowed boards, evidently resonating with the collective consciousness, has roots that delve into prior celluloid adaptations such as "Craig's Wife," featuring the indomitable Rosalind Russell. Reimagined in 1950, with Joan Crawford seizing control of the role of the domestic autocrat, the cinematic iteration attains a certain dimension that would come to define the realm of camp. 

This opus stands as a quintessential exemplar of Crawford's oeuvre during the intermediate phase, showcasing the cinematic incarnation of the domineering specters she had commenced portraying in works like Mildred Pierce and Humoresque, persisting through Torch Song, Johnny Guitar, and Queen Bee. If the accounts from her adopted daughter Cristina harbor a kernel of truth, these on-screen depictions mirrored her off-screen persona.

A parable unravelling the perils of societal ascent, it serves as a tableau illustrating Thorstein Veblen's perspective on the opulent spouse as an agent of conspicuous consumption. Joan Crawford, in the role of Harriet Craig, possesses the entirety: a spouse ensconced in the trappings of corporate ascendance (Wendell Corey), thereby enabling the procurement of her most coveted desires: property and prestige. She fixates on delineating those who belong to, or deviate from, what she designates as 'our set,' all the while striking poses within her meticulously curated upper-middle-class enclave.

Her spousal ties are revealed to be no more than a transactional alliance, her aversion to conjugal duties camouflaged beneath the pretext of perilous childbirth. Yet, contentment eludes her in leaving her spouse to his devices; there's a palpable yearning for total dominance. Just as he's poised to liberate himself momentarily from her tyrannical yoke on a business excursion, she intervenes, fabricating a tale to his employer about his supposed gambling compulsions. Ultimately, the tables turn, but in the final frame, as Crawford ascends her grand staircase alone amidst opulence, the question lingers as to who has emerged victorious.

This melodramatic narrative, bathed in the soapy hues of its genre, retains an unexpected magnetic allure. Perhaps it's the verisimilitude that Crawford injects into her portrayal, a precursor to Mary Tyler Moore's rendition of the upscale shrew in "Ordinary People," and the looming presence of Martha Stewart in popular culture. The film encapsulates an eerie essence of midcentury American upward mobility, a lugubrious self-importance that, regrettably, endures in the national psyche.

The result is one of the few films about a villain ― the titular villain is Harriet Craig. She does nothing good and attempts to break relationships wherever she can, as well as being the housework Nazi that she is.

She is the villain in this and everybody else are the goodies. She circumscribes her husband’s behaviour in the home. When Walter finally catches on he leaves her in order to avoid becoming completely dominated by here, she won’t actually let him do anything, she is such a villain.

It may be this picture was intended for sloppy housewives to make them feel superior to the tidy monster in it. Okay, sloppy housewives, here's your film.

Bosley Crowther, not impressed in the New York Times, November 3, 1950

The far regions of the concept of the woman’s picture, produced a near-miss film noir psychopath character, while suggestively making exploration into a female psyche that is associating it with the home. 

Joan Crawford as Harriet Craig is neither a villain with a sidekick or a serious plan, or drive. The drive is the domination of her husband, her sole motivator. The obsessions with the vase and other household items are merely signalling something else ― telling us this.

"The average woman does put her life in someone else's hands -- her husband's. That's why she usually comes to grief," 


"No man is born ready for marriage -- he has to be trained,"

There are scenes of teasing sexuality which are fascinating. At one stage Wendell Corey wakes up with a hangover, and intimacy seems near, and he asserts once again what a good hangover cure this is.

Denied of course, he is later lead on and out of one situation by Harriet inviting him for sex, so well done for 1950 and incredible storytelling how Harriet Craig easily prostitutes herself to her own desires for evil deeds.

Joan Crawford in Harriet Craig (1950)

The best way to enjoy Harriet Craig is through means of fear. As a psychological monster of 1950s noir, Harriet Craig is most powerful, not with its comments on consumerism but its comments on mental instability, and as an evil actor, ill to the core Harriet Craig takes on horror, or the psychological sort at least.


Columbia. 94 minutes.

US release: 11/2/50

VHS release: 2/20/96

DVD release: 11/5/12, 8/6/13 (Sony)

Joan Crawford as Harriet Craig, Wendell Corey, Lucille Watson, Allyn Joslyn, William Bishop, K.T. Stevens, Viola Roache, Rymond Greenleaf, Ellen Corby, Fiona O'Shiel, Patric Mitchell, Virginia Brissac, Katherine Warren, Douglas Wood, Kathryn Card, Charles Evans, Mira McKinney.

Based on the play "Craig's Wife" by George Kelly. Screenplay: Anne Froelick and James Gunn. Producer: William Dozer. Director:Vincent Sherman. Camera: Joseph Walker. Art Director: Walter Holscher. Music: Morris T. Stoloff. Wardrobe: Sheila O'Brien. Editor: Viola Lawrence.

Production dates: April 30 - May 23, 1950

Harriet Craig (1950) on Wikipedia

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