Joan Crawford and Barry Sullivan in Queen Bee (1955)


(director/writer: Ranald MacDougall; screenwriter: based on the novel The Queen Bee by Edna L. Lee; cinematographer: Charles Lang; editor: Viola Lawrence; music: George Duning; cast: Joan Crawford (Eva Phillips), Barry Sullivan (Avery “Beauty” Phillips), Betsy Palmer (Carol Lee Phillips), John Ireland (Judson Prentiss), Lucy Marlow (Jennifer Stewart), William Leslie (Ty McKinnon), Fay Wray (Sue McKinnon), Juanita Moore (Maid), Linda Bennett (Trissa Phillips), Olan Soule (Dr. Pearson),(Ted Phillips); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Wald; Columbia Pictures; 1955)

“About as much fun as being stung by a bee.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Unpleasant campy romantic drama with Joan Crawford as the evil, bitchy and manipulative Southern socialite Queen Bee, who is a charmer outwardly but inside she’s rotten to the core. After controlling all those around her, Joan’s unlikable one-dimensional character predictably gets her come-uppance. Director-writer Ranald MacDougall (“The Subterraneans”/”Go Naked in the World”/”Man on Fire”) keeps it unchallenging as a caustic potboiler and star vehicle for Joan, who is as nasty as she can be and primed to be taking down by one of those acquaintances she wronged. It’s based on the novel The Queen Bee by Edna L. Lee, and is about as much fun as being stung by a bee.

Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow) is the pretty but poor and naive Chicago-dwelling cousin of Eva Phillips (Joan Crawford), a two-faced, vain, and manipulative domineering Atlanta housewife of wealthy mill owner Avery “Beauty” Phillips (Barry Sullivan), who invites Jen to the mansion for a visit to keep her from being lonely.At first Jen is taking in by her cousin’s charm, but changes that opinion when slapped by Eva after being gleeful about the engagement announcement of Eva’s sister-in-law Carol Lee Phillips (Betsy Palmer) to henpecked hubby’s hard-working mill manager Judson Prentiss (John Ireland). Eva hates to lose former lover Jud and has done all she could to make sure he doesn’t marry Carol, as she feels despondent that she’s locked into a loveless marriage with Avery. Hubby has become an alcoholic and treats her with contempt, and doesn’t even relate to the couple’s two psychologically troubled children. Avery is a bitter man because he married Eva after a business trip to Chicago with Jud and jilted his nice Southern belle girlfriend Sue McKinnon (Fay Wray), now a zombie. The gentleman married the scheming Eva when she lied and told him she was pregnant, because he believes in old-fashioned values. Too bad he doesn’t believe in divorces!

The creaky plot, unconvincing melodramatics and less than endearing characters left me cold, as it was a tawdry film filled with cheap dramatics. The talented cast, to their credit, elevate this mawkish soap opera story to a higher level than it deserves. Joan’s unhappy real-life daughter Christina, in her tell-all memoir, Mommy, Dearest, states that the ‘not nice’ character played by mom in Queen Bee was not that different from her mom’s behavior at home.

Of note, those gowns by Jean Louis were knockouts.