Possessed (Warner) gets off to an exciting start with some suspenseful shots of a dazed derelict (Joan Crawford) wandering the streets of a great city at dawn, in search of a man named David. When she collapses, Miss Crawford is taken to a psychopathic ward. By the time the psychiatrist's drugs loosen her locked tongue enough to tell her story, Joan's desperate beauty and her fine, florid movie personality have aroused an intensity of interest which only a top grade picture could satisfy.
Possessed is not quite top grade, but most of it is filmed with unusual imaginativeness and force.
Joan's story, told in flashbacks, is cluttered with woman's magazine heartthrobs and too much elementary psychology. Her trouble really started when she fell possessively in love with David (Van Heflin), a cold-blooded man who can take his women or leave them. Joan got left. She had other troubles, too: Raymond Massey's mentally sick wife, whom she was nursing, was jealous of her without cause, and committed suicide. Since she was getting nowhere with Heflin, Joan married Massey. His daughter, Geraldine Brooks, believing her late mother's fantasies about the treacherous nurse, hated Joan. And every time Heflin turned up, Joan got wobbly in her loveless marriage. Worse still, she saw an affair ripening between Heflin and her stepdaughter.
It was no wonder that Joan's mind began to come apart. A prey to confused motives, she tried to "save" the girl from Heflin when she was really trying to save him for herself. She also gradually became convinced that she had murdered Massey's wife. Even more frightening hallucinations followed. After a fierce burst of melodrama, Joan winds up on the hospital cot. The cautious prognosis: she is a schizophrene, but conceivably curable.
Some of this story could better "be embroidered on a housemaid's knee than on film. But the picture's writers, director and musicians have done some effective things with sound (heartbeats, exaggerated rain, distorted musical flashbacks, etc.) and with storytelling; they have even risked confusing the audience by taking it a little way inside Joan's split sense of reality. Other moviemakers ought to take more such risks: the results are much more exciting than confusing.
The film is also uncommonly well acted. Van Heflin puts a lot of bite into his work; Newcomer Geraldine Brooks has looks, talent and vitality. Miss Crawford, though she is not quite up to her hardest scenes, is generally excellent, performing with the passion and intelligence of an actress who is not content with just one Oscar. In fact, the weaknesses in this unusual movie do not greatly matter beside the fact that a lot of people who have a lot to give are giving it all they've got.
Dear Ruth (Paramount), a midwar hit on Broadway, was a neat, machine-turned farce which depended almost as heavily on its particular period as day before yesterday's racing form. But, even tardily, as it comes to the screen, it is still reasonably entertaining.