DIRECTED BY

Michael Curtiz

 

STARRING

Joan Crawford

Zachary Scott

Sydney Greenstreet

Gladys George

David Brian

Virginia Huston

 

RATED

NR

 

RELEASED IN

1949

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 34 Mins.

Zachary Scott and Joan Crawford in 1949's "Flamingo Road."

Flamingo Road August 17, 2018  

inevitability stemming from a complex plot, but rather a ploy to distract us from the uninspired histrionics of everything else. Obviously manufactured pandemonium suits a three-minute arcade game. But it doesn’t fit a 94-minute soap opera.

 

In Flamingo Road, which was directed by the Hungarian workaholic Michael Curtiz, Crawford plays Lane, an aging carnival dancer left behind by her troupe in Boldon City, a Lilliputian southern town. She was, perhaps, expecting the abandonment. She was hardly an asset, and financial, and legal, trouble, has been so imminent for the ensemble that it was only a matter of time before they’d forget about her in a rushed exit.

 

Lane, a circumstantial vagabond, is used to picking her life back up after things seem to fall apart. She pulls herself up by her own bootstraps not long after Flamingo Road starts, a development in no doubt aided by the town’s deputy sheriff, Carlisle (Zachary Scott), who meets her by chance, finds himself attracted to her, and offers to take her out for a meal. He also gets her a job, as a waitress at a ramshackle diner downtown. A courtship ensues.

 

Little does Lane know that she is already being looked at as a liability. Semple (Sydney Greenstreet), the region’s portly, mouth-breathing sheriff, controls Carlisle’s career — and exerts so much power in Boldon City that successfully tampering with election results has almost become offhand.

 

For the last few months, Semple has been considering Carlisle as a possible senatorial candidate. Lane could derail Carlisle’s good image. He is well-liked in the town, and, unbeknownst to Lane, has a long-time, girl-next-door of a girlfriend, the materialistic Annabelle (Virginia Huston). If word spreads that Carlisle is seeing Lane on the side, possible political opportunities could wither away.

 

Semple essentially launches a campaign against Lane in retaliation, making it difficult for her to find meaningful, lasting work, and maintain friendships. Partway through the movie, Carlisle breaks off the relationship. Semple even manages to get Lane arrested on a bogus charge. But the latter is not easily deterred. After her release from the county jail, she takes it upon herself to start climbing up the city’s social ladder (the goal is to someday live in the most affluent part of town, Flamingo Road) and correct the wrongs thurst upon her.

 

The movie was written by Robert Wilder, who first introduced the story in 1942 through a novelization, and then again in 1946, in the dramaturgic format. Both the book and the stage play must have packed more of a wallop to have maintained interest for more than half a decade. If they matched the cinematization to a T, investment in the material certainly would not have lasted.

 

The cinematic edition of Flamingo Road is patently action-packed, but little conviction backs the hubbub. Everyone is on auto-pilot. Crawford struggles to look enthusiastic as she’s passed from a romantic exchange to an antagonistic showdown to an emotional unwinding; the supporting players, especially the unusually flaccid Greenstreet, do little to enliven the one-dimensional parts with which they’re provided. (Although Gladys George, as one of Lane’s tough but compassionate employers, communicates veritable resiliency.)

 

Movies like Flamingo Road were not atypical for Crawford. Having built her name off flowery melodramas, particularly in the aftermath of her comeback, Mildred Pierce, from 1945, it was rare for her to star in a dramatic opera worthy of her time. This movie is just part of the time-killing dross. C-

J

oan Crawford makes for the human equivalent of a steel pinball in Flamingo Road, a paltry political melodrama from 1949. Akin to the way the little metallic sphere is passed from one caricatured obstacle to the next for 25 cents or more — a reality enforced by the player’s hungry, almost wrathful thumping of the all-important flippers — Crawford is hurdled from one risible set piece to another. She feigns commitment to the material. We, contrarily, struggle to. The busyness of it all does not so much seem like an