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STRAIT-JACKET (director: William Castle; screenwriter: Robert Bloch; cinematographer: Arthur E. Arling; editor: Edwin H. Bryant; music: Van Alexander; cast: Joan Crawford (Lucy Harbin), Diane Baker (Carol Harbin), Leif Erickson (Bill Cutler), Howard St. John (Raymond Fields), Rochelle Hudson (Emily Cutler), George Kennedy (Leo Krause), John Anthony Hayes (Michael Fields), Edith Atwater (Mrs. Fields); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Castle; Columbia Pictures; 1964)
“It’s only a movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Bloch scripted this horror film for Joan Crawford by updating the Lizzy Borden story and letting her do her self-parody thing in the style of a 1940s film actress. While schock and schlock director William Castle calms down from his trademark gimmicky approach but still uses some of his usual cheap tricks in advertising: viewers of the film’s original run were given small cardboard axes as souvenirs. The previews for this film used the line “Just keep saying to yourself it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.”

Joan is Lucy Harbin. She was sent to the asylum for 20 years after axing her husband and his mistress to pieces in her bed in a moment of passion, as her 3-year-old daughter witnessed the incident. When released she comes to live on her brother’s farm with her now grownup daughter Carol (Diane Baker). The daughter is anxious to wed a nice young man, Michael Fields, but his respectable parents are against the marriage because of Joan’s incarceration. Soon after Joan’s arrival axe murders start happening, as Joan starts hallucinating again thinking she’s losing her mind. This falsely leads the viewer to believe Joan is at it again. It all leads to a surprise ending.

Not a good film, but Joan acquits herself well and plays up her situation in a pleasing campy way. This film is strictly for Joan Crawford fans. The story was more campy than scary or intense, and too derivative of Psycho and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? to be fresh.

George Kennedy is good in a supporting role as a deranged hired hand whose attempt at blackmail takes a fatal turn. The film’s best scene has Joan dreaming of the dismembered heads of her husband.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”