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George P. Breakston,
In Rye, New York, wealthy Walter Craig loves his wife, Harriet Craig. Conversely, Harriet, unaware to Walter, married him solely for independence, she believing that love in the romantic sense only complicating marriage. She focuses all of her energies on ensuring that the house in which they live is maintained to her standards, where everything and everyone has their proper place, leading to the household domestics, who do what they're told regardless, having a sense of contempt for her under their breath. To Harriet, Walter is purely a means to the end of that perfect house. Without Walter having realized it, Harriet, as was her want, has isolated them in their house, his friends who have slowly distanced themselves from him in not wanting to deal with her. Besides the domestics, the only person allowed in the house is Walter's maternal Aunt Ellen, who lives with them in she being his protector against Harriet, unlike Walter's belief that he is taking care of her. Harriet wants the ...Written by
A very interesting film! I saw it at a university's film archive; to my knowledge, it is not often screened on cable or broadcast TV.
For Rosalind Russell fans, the film is quite a change of pace from those who may know her best from the screwball comedy "His Girl Friday." She's very good in "Craig's Wife," (as is the supporting cast) and her performance gives you an appreciation for her range as an actress.
I say the film addresses a timeless American theme, which is the tension between American culture's focus on materialism (an issue even way back in the 1930's, clearly) versus a person's more human needs, such as emotional intimacy. The character of Harriet Craig clearly resists any show of vulnerability and, as the film progresses, increasingly reveals a depth of coldness that's also chilling for the audience to witness, and is mirrored in the uneasiness the supporting characters display as they interact with her.
What gives the film its lasting impression is that there are almost certainly many of us today who have met someone like the character. Furthermore, in the present day, we often see similar themes (love vs. money) played out in American films.
The theme was a common one, I think, in the 1930's, partly because the Depression and its aftermath made it hard for anyone (particularly women, for whom few career opportunities were available, let alone accepted) to ignore the economic expediency and comfort that finding a wealthy husband could afford. In that era, the hardships that may have accompanied being a romantic and marrying for love (without regard for money) were not trivial.
For a comic take on this same thematic vein, catch "Midnight" with Claudette Colbert, which is a delightful movie that I think screens fairly often on the AMC (American Movie Classics) cable channel. Less from a money-based viewpoint, but very much from an emotional standpoint, the character Mary Tyler Moore plays in 1980's "Ordinary People," a drama, has some of the same elements as Rosalind Russell's Harriet Craig here.
Another variant, which centers on the ambiguous intentions of a man toward a wealthy young woman, can be found in "The Heiress" with Olivia de Havilland, remade (with the title of the Henry James novel both films were based on) as "Washington Square" in the 1990s, with Jennifer Jason Leigh.
So, I view "Craig's Wife" as a surprisingly unflinching view of how one woman walled herself up within a prison -- both material and emotional -- of her own making. Highly recommended.
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