Alas, Harriet Craig is not out on DVD, but it plays regularly on TCM.
PS: For what it’s worth i.e, the final product, I was reminded while re-watching a doc on Joan Crawford last night that she had an affair with her married Harriet Craig director. (Who said the character had a great deal in common with the compulsively clean Crawford.)
Before Martha Stewart, there was Harriet Craig.
Except, unfortunately for everyone around her, she didn’t channel her obsession with domestic perfection and conspicuous displays of middle brow “good taste” into a billion-dollar business.
Like John Water’s farcical Serial Mom decades later, Craig focuses her overweening ambition on a very tiny target – her immediate family, which she aims to keep as tiny (and manageable) as possible.
And we all know what happens when you concentrate the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass and onto an anthill.
Harriet Craig is a lesser-known entry in Joan Crawford’s array of semi-autobiographical “shopgirl” movies.
Crawford’s most famous persona was one she shared with Barbara Stanwick: the dirt poor, clever, plain girl who cartoonishly exaggerates her best physical features, unveils her new identity in the big city, is quickly recognized as a briskly efficient, indispensable gal, then sets out to marry a business tycoon – or become the tycoon herself.
This 1950 film could be said to begin after all those earlier “The End”s. Mrs. Craig has married her rich man, and is now determined to make a perfect home for him – whether he likes it or not.
We learn the sordid details of Harriet’s childhood at the end of the film, the drugstore-Freudian source of her compulsions and insecurities.
Modern viewers will likely be shocked and even amused that Harriet is finally sharing this dysfunctional saga as a desperate attempt to keep her man; in our over-sharing era, we’re more likely to relate such family-of-origin anecdotes on a first date, as a kind of psychological curriculum vitae. ” My family is worse than your family” makes an efficient suitor-sorting tool.
(I can’t imagine seriously dating a man who didn’t have any “the time the cops came to our house”stories. Our class differences would be too great.)
I feel sorry for Crawford, post Mommy Dearest. I don’t admire her sexual promiscuity and home wrecking, but she had a stunning work ethic, and her fan-management was far ahead of its time.
Incidentally, I once mentioned in passing on this blog that the first thing I would do if I won the lottery would be to replace all my wire hangers with padded ones. Last month, a reader mailed me a huge box of them, harvested from his late grandmother’s closet.
It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve received from one of my fans, ever.