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FLAMINGO ROAD (director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: from the play by Sally and Robert Wilder/Robert Wilder/Edmund H. North; cinematographer: Ted D. McCord; editor: Folmar Blangsted; music: Max Steiner; cast: Joan Crawford (Lane Bellamy), Zachary Scott (Fielding Carlisle), Sydney Greenstreet (Titus Semple), David Brian (Dan Reynolds), Gladys George (Lute Mae Sanders), Virginia Huston (Annabelle Weldon), Fred Clark (Doc Waterson), Gertrude Michael (Millie), Tito Vuolo (Pete, Restaurant Owner); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Wald; Warner Brothers; 1949)
“A cynical political melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joan Crawford’s follow-up to the acclaimed Mildred Pierce, where she won the Best Actress Oscar, is a cynical political melodrama that never lives up to its potential to dig deeper into political corruption but is nevertheless well acted by the talented all-star cast and is helmed in a satisfactory perverse soap opera way by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”). It is based on a play by Sally and Robert Wilder. Its theme is about the effects on the individuals crossing the line from just doing ordinary corruption to big time corruption, somehow implying politicians should hold their greed and ambition in check with just a little corruption–which is the best way to succeed in politics because an honest politician would just get eaten up by the system.

Flamingo Road is pictured as a street of success that is found in every small town across America, and there’s also the wrong side of the tracks such as River Street where the losers live. The film makes the absurd assumption that everyone wants to live on Flamingo Street, and if given the chance will try almost anything to get there.

Kootch-dancer Lane Bellamy (Joan Crawford, who was over forty at the time and was playing a part that called for a twentysomething) is tired of always being on the run with her seedy carnival group and gets stranded in the backwater southern town of Boldon when the carnival operator flees over the state-line to avoid an ‘attachment’ on his business. The tough-minded Lane meets deputy sheriff Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott), a charming but weak-minded law school drop-out and son of a respected judge who lives on Flamingo Road. They fall for each other and he gets her a job as a waitress. The problem is that he’s the political protégé of the town’s corrupt sheriff Titus Semple (Sidney Greenstreet), who has big political plans for him and feels that this budding relationship with such a stray cat would ruin his political plans to make Carlisle a state legislator and then a governor. Titus says, “I never had a governor before.” The corpulent Titus insists that Carlisle marry the socialite from Flamingo Road he’s engaged to, the uncomplicated Annabelle Weldon. Titus makes sure the romance between Lane and Carlisle is broken up when he frames her on a trumped-up prostitution soliciting charge and she gets 30 days in the clinker. When released Carlisle is already married and elected as a state senator, but the stubborn Lane still wants to stay in this wholesome town. Her cellmate connects her with independent-minded Lute Mae Sanders (Gladys George), who runs a roadside club frequented by the big shots and the swells and who is not afraid of the sheriff. Lute hires Lane as a cocktail waitress, despite reservations about how this could cause her problems down the road. At the club Lane hooks up with the powerful state political boss Dan Reynolds (David Brian), who wields influence in overseeing graft, political deals, choosing candidates and political appointments. The volatile, hard-drinking Dan is charmed by Lane and they marry. She returns in style to live on Flamingo Road. In the meantime, Carlisle disappoints Titus by his heavy drinking. Drinking is looked upon as a political liability and a sure sign of personal weakness by the sober Titus. The spineless Carlisle says to Titus “I crawled into a bottle and can’t get out.”

The fireworks begin when Dan turns down Titus’s request to back Carlisle for governor (Dan is drawing the line on how much corruption he can tolerate) and the rivals get into a life and death struggle. It involves blackmail, frame-ups, a suicide, and a fatal confrontation between arch enemies Lane and Titus.

The film is loaded with great one-liners. The vulnerable Crawford telling the despised bully Greenstreet “You wouldn’t believe how much trouble it is to dispose of a dead elephant.” Greenstreet explains his careful and ruthless nature by saying he started out working in a warehouse filled with rats. One night while he slept, a rat bit his foot. From then on he plugged up all the holes before he slept and aims to go through life making sure no one else bites him. That tale was about as scary as the scene of Greenstreet drinking milk in a diner while contemptuously spying on Lane and Carlisle enjoying each other’s company in a nearby table.

It should be noted that before Crawford would accept the part she demanded of Jack Warner that her part be rewritten. Though Warner complied, she did not accept until the talented Curtiz came on board as director and old time actors such as Gladys George were added to the supporting cast.

Remade as a TV movie and became a weekly night-time soap opera in the 1980s.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”