Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Because I Love Him (1953)

In Because I love Him, Joan Crawford plays Margaret Hughes, an attractive, likeable upper-middle class housewife. Margaret is living the American Dream: she has a beautiful (but not ostentatious) home, an affable middle-aged successful architect hunk of a husband (whom she has real chemistry with) and they are financially comfortable. The only odd note is that, in this 1950's Heaven, the Hughes are childless, not that either seems to mind.
As Because opens, Margaret has been called in by the family doctor (who's also a close personal friend of both Margaret and her husband David) but he has some bad news for her.
Mr. Hughes is going to die.
Within a year.
"It's in the bloodstream...there's nothing we can do. "
Helpfully, he tells the grieving Margaret that there is an upside. Since he doesn't know he's going to die:
"You can devote yourself to making this a wonderful year for him!"
Margaret seems thoughtful...
Later that night, when David comes home from work, Margaret sets her plan in motion.
Knowing that he's unhappy in his work (architect was his fall-back career, a way to make "make a living") she encourages him to return to his first choice, ceramic design (she's even dug up some of his old designs).

Although initially hesitant, he's soon won over, and within a month, he's got a burgeoning business, he's got professional kiln and a business partner.
(Crawford is so kittenish, so sexy in this scene. For a 1950's TV show, it's quite suggestive, with the couple talking, and kissing, all over the bedroom and during the entire scene she's undressing him!)
Not to mention the priceless look on his face when she (out of view) does something to his ear...
So yeah, David's finally happy and fulfilled now (professionally, creatively, financially and marital-ey) but Margaret notices that there's still one more thing that David is lacking:
"Every time anyone mentions that little Stanley boy, I see that look in your eye..."
(Okay, that sounds all sorts of wrong, but what she means is, she knows he wants children, even though they can't conceive).
Solution? Adoption.
They meet with a sympathetic caseworker and the interview goes well. There's a strong candidate for adoption, and according to the caseworker, all that's needed to seal the deal is a clean bill of health from mom...and dad.
Cut to Margaret looking worried (as David is still unaware of his impending death):
"He can't take a physical! He might find out he's going to die, and I can't let that happen...because I love him!"
So she quietly puts the adoption on the back burner.
(unfortunately, she lives to regret this when David inadvertently finds out she 86' ed the adoption while working with his "business partner", an attractive, artistic blonde floozy named Anne).

Feeling frustrated and deceived by his wife, David seeks comfort...
and well, you know...
Her reaction? "I liked it."
(not really, she's actually kind of sweet and guilty-feeling about all this but since this is a soap opera, somebody's gotta be the bad guy)
Watching Because I Love Him must be similar to losing one's sanity--nobody in this film (from the way too-friendly doctor to the impervious optimism of Margaret; from the complete clueless-ness of David all the way to the vapid, needy mistress) makes a logical decision.
Soon enough, Margaret finds a note not meant for her eyes.
Poor Margaret. If it's not one thing it's another.
She confides in her good friend Doctor Allen, and he cautions her to let it go, that it's not worth getting upset about and what's more, not to mention it to David. He's going to die anyway, why risk hastening his death?
But Margaret's not about to let it go. Why not?
"Because I love him!"
And what happens then, the way this rats nest of misery and absurdity is resolved, is so bat-s**t insane that I had to watch it again, to make sure I actually saw it correctly.
( final spoiler following assessment)
On September 19, 1953, Joan Crawford made what is believed to be her television debut in a dramatic role (the first of many, Gods be thanked!) in an episode of Revlon's Mirror Theater called "Because I Love Him". I've seen Because before (on VHS!) without ever paying too much attention to it but I finally sat down and really watched it the other day. Just...wow. So much lunacy masquerading as suburban normalcy. It's a blast!
(The Face!)
 Joanie's terrific here (when isn't she?) and she looks like a million bucks-- in fact, I had trouble figuring out how old Margaret was supposed to be (I settled on late-thirties to early forties). As idiotic as the plot is, Joan Crawford retains a light, thoughtful touch that's a pleasure to watch.
(More Face!)
The men who play Margaret's husband and doctor do good work in spite of roles that require them to behave inexplicably (in particular the actor playing David Hughes has a sexy, wooden Richard Egan quality about him).
Business partner/ home-wreckin' hussy Anne is played by Virginia Grey, a talented and popular character actress who appeared in many, many films from the 1930's to the 1960's (maybe even beyond), including her friend Joan Crawford's 1939 The Women
and oh, just the greatest movie ever made. Grey was definitely a trouper of the old school and her career was long and varied, though she never quiiite became a star.
In Conversations With Joan Crawford, Crawford muses about the Golden Age of Hollywood:
"The actors who suffered the most, though, were those who simply couldn't get a part to prove themselves or their box-office appeal. I'm thinking of beautiful, talented people like...Virginia Grey, Howard Keel, Ann Sothern-oh, so many more!-who just didn't get the big break or who got shoved off into the back lot, into the B pictures."
Also in the cast is Ellen Corby as the soft-hearted social worker. Corby was another dependable, likeable character actress with a long career. In Crawford's Harriet Craig (1950) she plays Lottie, the sweet-tempered, hapless maid who gets fired by Harriet for terminal clumsiness, but my favorite performance of hers is as spinster aunt Trina in Irene Dunne's classic I Remember Mama (1948). Nearly always when books are adapted into films something (details, nuances) gets lost in the translation but I Remember Mama is just about perfect, and Ellen looks the way I'd imagined Trina looking! Not to mention her role as a busybody old hen in Joan Crawford's great "lost" movie, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). In fact, such was Joanie's fondness for Corby that way late in life, she expressed a desire to appear in The Waltons, just to get a chance to work with her old friend and co-worker.
(Corby and Crawford having a tense moment in 1950's Harriet Craig)
And now Because I Love Him's final deranged spoiler:
Nearly a year has passed since Margaret was told by her doctor that her husband is going to die, although he must never know, and that she must make this "a wonderful year for him!" Since then, her marriage has ended and her entire life is shattered. But yeah, he's had a wonderful year!
Margaret goes for a long, solitary walk one day and when she returns home the doctor is waiting for her. She doesn't seem too surprised to see him, in fact she tells him:
"You know, you described the symptoms perfectly."
She adds quietly: "It isn't David who's going to die
... it's me."
Doctor Alan, shocked that she's figured it out: "I wish it were me! I've loved you for such a long time."
"I know, but it was always David I loved. Thank you. For your strength, for giving me my last year...no, you were right to tell me, because I really did make David happy. Not every woman gets the chance to do that for the man she loves."
But then: "Alan, I'm scared!"
"Alan, please help me!"
Because I Love...You?
The End
So basically, Margaret's entire life is a sham, her beloved husband is unfaithful and then he leaves her, she never gets to adopt that kid and her doctor lies to her about her terminal illness but that's ok because he loves her and either way poor Margaret's going to die any day now.
(Margaret clearly doesn't think so)
But it is fun, really! I'd just add in a character to be Margaret's neighbor, some secondary character who drops by and listens to her problems and offers insightful comments (since Heaven knows, none of the other people in her life are leveling with her) and most of all, he could tell her to get another doctor!
The best comment about  Because I Love Him can be found here (as well as a link to the show on youtube). Quote:
"it does look very melodramatic. Something about Joan's face when she looks worried. That stare into something that's 5 ft in front of her but its not really there."
My final verdict?
If it were at all possible to take the plot as seriously as the performers do, Because would be some kind of sick Lars Von Trier horror drama, but happily it's not. Instead it's melodrama, with all the outsized emotions and illogical behaviors of an opera, not a bad trick for a forgotten, 60 year old half-hour television show!  
(Face, again)
Had it been stretched out to feature-length, shot in color and exhibited in theaters, Because I Love Him would probably be one of my favorite Crawford films.

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