Saturday, November 7, 2009

Strait-Jacket (1964)


Written by Robert Bloch
Directed by William Castle

Lucy Harbin...Joan Crawford
Carol Harbin...Diane Baker
Uncle Bill Cutler...Leif Erickson
Michael Fields...John Anthony Hayes

Twenty years ago, hot mama Lucy Harbin ("very much a woman, and very much aware of that fact") walked in on her cheating hubby bedding down with some young harlot. She takes the only rational course of action and grabs hold of the nearest edged object--an axe--and Lizzy Borden's them to death, right in front of her young daughter Carol. In short order, Lucy is declared insane and shipped off to a mental asylum where she remained...until today.

Now Lucy Harbin emerges as a freshly declared "Sane Person", no longer the hot mama that she once was but instead a rather matronly, reserved older woman who can't bear to think about the past. But in order to please her daughter, she submits to a head-to-toe makeover and turns back into the bangle bracelet-wearing cougar that she once was, drinking scotch and smoking cigarettes and listening to the swingingest jazz records to be found on this little farm.

So is Lucy truly of a sound mind? That's the question we're asking ourselves throughout the length of this movie, because, as Dr. Anderson tells us, "Sanity is a subjective term." Almost right off the bat, she's hearing ghostly voices of children reciting unkind nursery rhymes (decades before Nightmare on Elm Street, mind you!), and suffering terrifying dreams of dismembered corpses. When she tells the doctor, "It's all unraveling. It's coming apart," it's obvious that she's not just talking about her knitting project. She's talking about her sanity, which even she is beginning to doubt.

And that's when the bodies start to hit the floor.

This is an utterly enjoyable little flick, and not for the typical William Castle reasons. There are no gimmicks this time around, and beyond that, he even scored a real star in the lead. Which, when you think about it, is kind of a gimmick in and of itself for Castle. Gone is the general hokeyness, gone is the enjoyable desperation that we have come to expect. Castle himself doesn't even appear on screen. All of which is simultaneously pleasing and disheartening. It would be the equivalent of watching an Ed Wood film and discovering that he really could direct a genuine film after all.

My favorite part of Strait-Jacket was the post-makeover Cougar version of Lucy. She came off like the original Desperate Housewife, and when she lit a match for her cigarette on a moving LP, sending the soundtrack screeching into sudden silence...that was one bad-ass, bad-girl moment. Plus, this is the feature film debut (in a bit part) of Lee Motherfuckin' Majors.

Watch for it!

Not Rated
93 Minutes
Black and White
United States

View the trailer below!

Strait-Jacket is currently ranked #5,995 in DVDs at Read more about it at the IMDB, rent it at Netflix, or buy it today!

"Lucy Harbin took an axe, gave her husband forty whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave his girlfriend forty one."

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1 comment:

  1. This was Joan Crawford's last GREAT performance. A brilliant film - they don't make 'em like William Castle anymore.


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