Crime Of Passion, 1956. 7/10

Stirling Hayden, Barbara Stanwyck, and Raymond Burr star in this noirish drama of a love triangle. Bill (Hayden) and Kathy (Stanwyck) are married, but she gets bored with her apparently contented husband, and has a one-night thing with his boss, Tony (Burr). Which means trouble.

We see that Kathy is that bane of the ’50s woman mindset–she’s independent and ambitious. Nonetheless, this newspaper woman falls in love with the detective (Bill) who solves a big murder case. But hanging out with the other cops’ wives is literally no picnic for Kathy; when’s Bill getting that promotion, anyway? Who does she have to sleep with to make it happen?

With Fay Wray as Burr’s wife, Alice; Virginia Grey and Royal Dano as the Alidos, Sara and Charlie; and Robert Griffen and Dennis Cross as a couple of detectives, James and Jules.

Were in San Francisco, passing newspaper billboards featuring Kathy’s image, obviously to boost readership. Then, into her paper’s office. Her boss wants her to check on an L.A. homicide–it’s concerning a wife (Mary Dana) who killed her husband. Next thing, were in the press room at police H.Q. The L.A. cops, Alidos and Doyle, have the case that’s the hot topic.

Captain Alidos comes in with Bill; they’re so-tight lipped that Alidos’s biggest comment is that Kathy should bag it and keep house. Anyway, thanks to Kathy’s advice column, the elusive Mary surfaces; warranting another, slightly more cordial visit from Alidos and Doyle. She gives the Captain the address she has for the suspect.

But, she sends Alidos on a wild goose chase; she wants Bill to get credit himself, so she saves the straight dope for him. They’re instantly attracted to each other, so after the Dana business is wrapped up, Bill and Kathy go out to dinner. He’s got to catch his plane “I’m glad I met you. I like you.” An airport barroom kiss.

What’s this? She’s taking a new job in New York. Hey, Bill calls…can she stop over in L.A.? He fixes it so she can. He basically sweeps her off the runway, and into city hall for a marriage ceremony. Somewhat incongruously, the Captain and his wife are the best man and maid of honor (or just witnesses). Right away things are a tad underwhelming, as Kathy doesn’t seem very excited with their new place together.

Obviusly, she’s ditched her career for him. Anyway, the cops’ wives are soon hanging out with Kathy; she’s hardly even faking being interested. She doesn’t fit in with them, and can’t cross over to where ‘the guys’ are busy playing cards. Plus, Bill can’t even have lunch with his wife without being pestered by work. The next dinner party, Tony’s name comes up; meanwhile, Kathy melts down from the banality.

That night, she stays up pondering things. “Don’t call me ‘angel’! I loathe it!” She tells Bill, who looks in. “Is this what you have to look forward to? This mediocrity?!” He just want to make her happy. “I just want you to BE somebody.” Isn’t he, though?

Although the limited role for women in this era is certainly a major theme, Kathy’s out-and-out greed is something quite different. That’s not feminism, but insatiability. And, materialism isn’t the bad guy here, it’s the paltry amount of it. The well-constructed and convincing independent woman theme is more or less in the dust bin.

Anyway, she’s up to something, staging an accident. She almost hits Alice Pope, the object being to meet her, as an entre to meeting her husband, the Inspector. Soon she’s getting her nails done with Alice, and hatches a scheme (a party) to schmooze Tony. Ironically, just the sort of gab-fest that she usually can’t stand.

The party comes off; Bill even has the chance to talk up the Commissioner. Tony chats up Kathy. He basically stirs the pot by hinting that her ambition isn’t sufficiently satisfied. Rather oddly, he invites her to his office. They seem to be sizing each other up. She does admit that she’s at loose ends. She takes the big step of letting him know that she’s more or less available to discuss intriguing cases (!).

That night she tells Bill that she wants him to quit; and segue to the less-demanding Beverly Hills police. It doesn’t make sense, as he’d have to start all over again. He agrees, because “The only way to make me unhappy is to stop loving me.” All of a sudden, Tony has taken an interest in his career; so Bill won’t resign, but we know something Bill doesn’t.

Uh, oh, there’s a note questioning her commitment to Bill. She has to explain that it’s probably Sara’s doing, and fingering Tony. Well, Bill’s not a happy camper. At HQ, Charlie gets punched by Bill. Great, now Bill’s in the hot seat, with Pope presiding. Actually, Jules and James more or less cover for Doyle. In this inquiry, Pope sounds very much like Burr’s later incarnation as Perry Mason.

The upshot of all this is Alicia’s is transferred, and Bill’s temporarily promoted. Next bit is someone calling on Kathy at night–of course it’s Tony. Now it’s his turn to gripe, about Alice. Same story as with Bill and Kathy; Alice is going nuts dealing with being a cop’s wife. “All those [good] years, where did they go?” he laments. Hey here’s an idea: Tony retires, Bill takes his place. A win-win?

They make out. Instead of that sealing the deal, however, Tony and Alice are suddenly reconciled. Kathy can’t have that; she and Tony arrange to meet up. He shows at the restaurant; he feels bad about their recent encounter, and out of loyalty for Bill, not to mention professionalism, the “pillow talk” deal is off. In fact, in a complete reversal, he’s putting Charlie up for the promotion.

She nearly faints in the restaurant. Next morning, she’s a complete jerk with Bill. Later, at the fights, they have to leave; same old ‘duty calls’ thing. A pretty gross shoot-out is recounted at the station. The desk sergeant mumbles about crime and murder. She leaves, but stakes out Tony’s home. “I’ve got to talk to you! It’s important!” She yells at him. Kind of carelessly, he lets her in.

She goes on and on, “I beg of you!” He’s not being magnanimous. So, she plays her last card–a gun. Boom, no more Tony. Driving furiously up in the mountains, she does finally get home. Now what? There’s Bill. She gets in bed just quick enough to fool him. Of course, Tony’s body is discovered. Meaning Bill is notified. Just now she’s the most affectionate that she’s ever been with him.

At HQ, ironically, it’s Bill giving orders about not leaving a stone unturned to catch Tony’s killer. She calls HQ (no answering machines then), as Bill looks at photo of the fatal bullet. He calls her to ask her to stay with Alice; hmm, comfort the widow of the man she’s shot? Well, Bill’s forensic skills are perfect: he IDs the bullet as from the same gun as one taken in the heist discussed earlier–in other words, it was stolen from HQ.

The cops huddle: what could’ve happened to the missing gun? Indirectly, Bill pieces everything together. At home he simply says “what did you do with the gun, Kathy?” She confesses. Well, he brings her in. To that same desk where she stole the gun. That’s it, the end.

Strangely, although the story covers plenty of territory (Bill and Kathy’s entire relationship), it goes sort of slow, especially in the middle. Had we begin with them as newlyweds, we’d have a lot more room for scenes showing Kathy’s disenchantment with married life, her the effects of her pushiness on Bill, and, especially the fling with Tony.

As it is, the beginning isn’t integrated well into the rest of the movie. It’s as though the career woman role just morphs into the trapped-in-suburban-conformity theme. Obviously the two are related, but the change is so abrupt that it’s almost like two movies lashed together.

Having cut this up that much, there’s plenty to like: the stars each give strong performances, and are very well-suited to their roles. Hayden is uncharacteristically passive, though; he never reacts much to Stanwyck’s demands, except by giving in. In fact, he never figures out what happened between her and Burr’s character. There’s no Bill and Tony face-off, and not much follow-up on Bill’s discovery of the ‘do-tell’ letters.

Tony is the most interesting one here. He’s alternatively menacing, intimidating, creepy, dishonest, and loyal. The strongest scene is his ‘courtroom’ investigation of the Bill/Charlie confrontation, in which Tony shows most of these traits.

Stanwyck has the amorality tinge of some of her other roles. Other than their initial romance, Hayden and Stanwyck spend more time avoiding each other than being cozy.

Crime of Passion takes a weighty premise and a great cast and comes up with a decent drama; it just doesn’t scope out its angles clearly enough to make a stronger impact.

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