Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Queen Bee

Cinema Monolith: 7/10
IMDb: 6.6/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: *** out of 4

Released on November 7, 1955
Not rated
95 minutes

Directed by Ranald MacDougall

Written by Ranald MacDougall, based on the novel by Edna Lee

Cast: Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, Betsy Palmer, John Ireland, Lucy Marlow, William Leslie, Fay Wray, Katherine Anderson, Tim Hovey, Linda Bennett, Willa Pearle Curtis, Robert McCord, Bill Walker, Olan Soule

For this year’s edition of the O Canada! blogathon, which spotlights all things Canada and is again hosted by Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth at Silver Screenings, I thought I’d discuss a movie I was already planning on reviewing in February: the 1955 film noir drama Queen Bee. This one featured not one but two members of its main cast who were born in Canada, and in neighboring provinces: John Ireland, who was from British Columbia, and former King Kong love interest Fay Wray, who hailed from Alberta.

The dictionary seen in the preview trailer says it all: One female alone may be the queen bee. She rules supreme. The other females serve only to sacrifice themselves while tending the queen bee or defending her. The males of the species are stingless and useful only for performing one fleeting but all-important service. Granted, this wasn’t a definition I could find in any of the dictionaries on my shelf, but it most certainly defines the pervading mentality of the film, and more specifically, its lead actress Joan Crawford.

Crawford plays Eva, a domineering and devious matriarch of a family living in a large Georgia mansion, who welcomes a cousin, Jennifer, into their home for an extended visit. There Jennifer meets Eva’s husband Avery (Barry Sullivan), an alcoholic with a disfiguring scar on his face; Avery’s sister Carol and her boyfriend Jud (Betsy Palmer and John Ireland), who hope to be married, though Carol knows nothing of Eva and Jud’s prior dalliance; and family friend Ty (William Leslie) and his sister Sue (Fay Wray), who suffers from a mental condition after Eva stole Avery away from her on their wedding day. Yes, enough drama to fill two movies, but trust me, this just scratches the surface.

The fun, of course, was watching Crawford in action; a neurotic, demanding, and treacherous woman who, instead of ‘Queen Bee’, might be better described as ‘Queen B’; it’s a wonder anyone stays in that house, including her spouse. Lucy Marlow, who played cousin Jennifer, and who had a homespun screen presence, was quite ingratiating, while Wray and Ireland were altogether memorable in their roles; though Wray only appeared in a few opening scenes, she still made a notable impact. But the one who really grabbed my attention was Sullivan, as the angry and put-upon husband Avery, who went from a whipped shell of a man to one who’d finally had enough, and eventually took matters into his own hands. For me, his character’s story arc was by far the most satisfying.

I’d never heard of director Ranald MacDougall before this, and wondered afterwards if he’d previously worked in noir, but as I found out, this was his first film, of only six he would ever direct. I liked how he took advantage of the mansion interiors, filming through windows and doorways, and from different spots on a massive staircase. But best of all, I loved the downbeat mood he created with his camera, from the noirish lighting and sour atmosphere to the sudden layer of tension that would pervade a scene whenever Crawford walked into frame. A commendable job for a screenwriter helming his first production; his tracking shot and reveal in the stable were as cool as they were shocking.

Back before noir films were known as noir films, they were sometimes called melodramas, and Queen Bee fits that bill to perfection. Though considered by many to be a camp classic, I didn’t notice anything campy about it at all, and saw it only as a well-made, high-class soap opera with a mean streak, with examples of noir elements—high-contrast lighting, tone, shadows, and a major league femme fatale in Crawford–very much evident throughout. When my friend lent me this movie, he mentioned how he’d once read that Crawford’s performance was the one most like her true self. If that’s the case, then Queen Bee is a biography that’s worth checking out.  (7/10)

Click hear to read other entries in the O Canada! blogathon.

10 comments on “Queen Bee

  1. Barry Sullivan always impresses me. Ranald MacDougall directed one of my favourite films, The Hasty Heart. He handled his directing chore very well. John Ireland is a fun actor to watch, and you are so spot on about how memorable Fay Wray is in her role. Very interesting choice for the blogathon, and well done.


    • Todd B

      Hi Patricia, and thanks for the nice comments! I remember seeing Sullivan in a few noir films, but I was surprised to discover he was also in Earthquake! I noticed The Hasty Heart when I was researching MacDougall, but I’ve never seen it; if I can find it, I’ll give it a look. And I thought it strange in Queen Bee that Wray was there for the start, then just disappeared; I would’ve loved to see more of her character in the movie! Who knows, maybe she had a plane to catch.


  2. Here’s one I have yet to see but I know it’s on the shelf here somewhere. Sounds fun from an Era when more than ever Joan was becoming a caricature. Ireland a guy I’ve always liked and could play most any genre. Not sure I knew Fay was in it. Nice way to showcase a couple Canucks.


    • Todd B

      I bet there are hundreds of Blu-rays and DVDs hidden away on your shelves that you don’t even remember owning! I’ve really liked Ireland in some of his early Western and noir work, and this may very well be the only other Fay Wray movie I’ve seen besides King Kong. I’m not even sure if she’s done anything else!


      • There are a few to be sure. I’ve seen some other Fay films from the early 30’s but not many. If memory serves, I think she was one of the ladies thought of for Titanic. They went with other 30’s star Gloria Stuart.


      • Todd B

        I just checked out her filmography on IMDb, and yes, quite a number of films from the 1930s…and I’d only heard of a few of them. After King Kong, I’d only heard of two: Crime of Passion and Tammy and the Bachelor. And during my on-line info-gathering, I did see that she was offered the role in Titanic, but turned it down.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a brand-new-to-me film. I hadn’t even heard of it before, so I’m glad you chose it for the blogathon.

    Sounds like a terrific cast here. I’ve always liked John Ireland, but it appears he’s faded into obscurity nowadays.

    Joan Crawford looks A-MAZ-ING in that photo you posted. I know she had the help of Hollywood’s best stylists, but still!

    Thank you for joining the blogathon, and for the introduction to Queen Bee. 🙂


    • Todd B

      Thanks Ruth, and once again, thanks for the invite! Yes, this sure did have a great cast, and I think it says a lot when you can have Fay Wray in your film for just a few minutes – a very minor character – and she still makes an impact. Ireland, Crawford, Sullivan, Palmer, and Marlow were all very good as well, I thought…a fun bunch to watch in an angry melodrama! And that photo of Crawford I used: I normally don’t like to use a photo that closely resembles the artwork of the poster, but when I saw that photograph, I had to break the rules!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kristina

    I’m a fan of this one 🙂 watching Joan in master manipulator mode, making everyone miserable! Fun, soapy melodrama. Great read and thanks for being part of the blogathon!


    • Todd B

      And thank you, Kristina, for once again inviting me along! I agree, Joan’s character is one miserable person, and does a great job of helping everyone else feel the same way. If I was living there, I’d escape the first opportunity I had…or let John Ireland give her a ride somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

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