Harbin was declared legally insane today," a young woman narrates
in the opening moments of Strait-Jacket (1964). Lucy, as
played by the indomitable Joan Crawford, is described as, "very
much a woman, and very much aware of the fact."
evening, Lucy arrives home to find her husband in bed with another
woman. With her oversized jewelry jangling like jingle bells, she
sneaks up on the post-coital couple and hacks them to death with
not guilty!" Lucy screams as they haul her away in a straitjacket.
"It was a mistake!" she hilariously adds. Sure, Lucy.
That ax just happened to slip out of your hands and it just happened
to decapitate your philandering husband.
young daughter witnesses the entire gruesome scene. While her mother
does time in the loony bin, Carol Harbin spends the next twenty
years with her uncle Bill on his small family farm. "My mother,
a murderess," a grown up Carol (Diane Baker) now tells her
fiancé. "She's coming home
estranged mother and daughter are reunited when Lucy comes to stay.
Carol shows off her art studio and proudly unveils a bronze sculpture
she's made in her mother's likeness. In fact, the bust is of Crawford,
made thirty years prior during her early days at MGM.
in the production, Crawford insisted that the actress playing her
daughter be replaced. Crawford (who had worked with Diane Baker
in The Best of Everything, 1959) most likely suggested Baker
for the role of Carol. In Battle-Ax: The Making of Strait-Jacket,
Baker speaks fondly of Crawford and of how supportive she was during
day objects take on a whole new meaning when Lucy is around. An
artist's chisel seems menacing when in the hands of a "reformed"
murderess. That evening, when Carol's well-to-do fiancé arrives
to have dinner, Lucy disappears. While looking for her, they find
an old family album. All the photos of Lucy's former husband have
been neatly cut and decapitated!
next day, mother and daughter become reacquainted while indulging
in some retail therapy. Years in an asylum have left Lucy tired
and gray, but after getting a head-to-toe make-over, she looks exactly
as she did twenty years earlier. Crawford makes a grand entrance
by dramatically pulling back a set of dressing room curtains to
reveal her characters "youthful" rejuvenation. "Are
you sure it doesn't make me look too young?" she coyly asks,
as if it were possible for an aging Hollywood star to ever look
in the store, Lucy hears a strange voice that mocks her with childish
nursery rhymes about her murderous past. That night, she awakens
to the same taunting voice as well as a pair of disembodied heads
on her pillow! When uncle Bill comes to check the room, there's
nothing there. Could Lucy's reintroduction into society have caused
a relapse in her psychosis?
to impress her daughter's fiancé, Lucy puts on her best dress
and prepares for a casual cocktail hour. The highlight of the film
comes when Michael (John Anthony Hayes) arrives and Crawford begins
to vamp it up in an embarrassing attempt to seduce a man half her
Mrs. Harbin, I'm just a country boy," he demurs as she caresses
his youthful physique. Thankfully, the telephone interrupts the
awkward seduction. There's no telling how far Lucy (or Crawford
for that matter) would have taken the unflattering May/December
doctor from the institution has decided to pay Lucy an impromptu
visit. Mitchell Cox, a Pepsi Cola executive, plays Dr. Anderson.
Cox had no acting experience, but Crawford promised him the role
as a favor. At the time, Crawford was married to the president of
Pepsi and served as the soft drink's unofficial spokesperson.
makes a show of appearing nonchalant in front of the doctor. Memorably,
Crawford lights a cigarette by striking a match on a spinning phonograph
record. But the doctor's sudden appearance has shaken her already
how do you spend your time?"
hilarious answer, "Knitting."
line of questioning becomes too much to bear and she literally comes
unraveled. After she storms out, the doctor consults with Carol.
He is concerned that Lucy is, "trying to recapture her past,
but for her, the past is dangerous."
she is sane now."
a relative term."
can say that again. It isn't long before the doctor falls prey to
Lucy's ax wielding ways.
later, Carol suspects the worst when she finds the doctor's car
still parked in the yard. When the hospital telephones the farm
trying to locate him, Carol assures her mother that, "I won't
let them take you back."
next day, Carol discovers slovenly farmhand George Kennedy painting
the doctor's automobile. Using "finders keepers" logic,
he has claimed the car as his own. Since the doctor disappeared
under mysterious circumstances and she tried to hide the evidence,
he knows that there's nothing Carol can do about it. She storms
off while he continues to paint and casually whistle the film's
the car was worth it. Kennedy soon meets his graphic demise at the
hand of a swinging ax.
Carol is concerned about her mother's questionable mental state,
she agrees to a family dinner with Michael's parents. On the drive
over to the estate, uncle Bill chimes in, "Just remember, we're
going to a party, not a funeral." With Lucy in tow, that remains
to be seen.
has a minor freak-out in the guest bathroom, which is understandable
given the prison-like décor. When the subject of Carol and
Michael's engagement is brought up, his parents make it clear that
they steadfastly oppose the marriage. They soon start grilling Lucy
about her questionable past and her mental illness. "It wasn't
just a sanitarium was it?"
one backs Lucy into a corner. Crawford fires back with all guns
blazing, "No, it wasn't! It was an asylum and it was hell!
Twenty years of pure hell!"
you're confronting a woman whose grip on reality is tenuous at best,
it doesn't pay to threaten her family. "My girl is going to
have what she wants out of life. Carol and Michael are going to
be married and nobody's gonna stop it!" Lucy bellows before
fleeing into the night.
the foreboding jangle of a charm bracelet can be heard as Michael's
parents prepare for bed. Father is hacked to death while fetching
his slippers from the bedroom closet. When mother comes to investigate,
she is also attacked by an ax wielding Lucy. Suddenly, Lucy arrives
to apologize for her earlier behavior. Wait a second
As the killer lunges for her, Lucy wrestles her doppelganger to
the bed and removes the imposter's disguise. It's Carol
Michael comes upon the scene, Carol tries to convince him that it's
her mother who's finally lost her mind, "She tried to kill
me! She tried to kill us all!" When he sees the mask in her
hands, he knows the truth. It seems that severe childhood trauma
has made Carol just a little bit nutty.
the film's knockdown, drag-out, over-the-top finale, Carol pounds
her fist into the rubber mask she's made of her mother's face. "I
love you. I hate you! I love you! I hate you!" she wails,
spiraling down into insanity. Not
to be outdone in the histrionics department, Crawford grandly sobs
and acts as if the future of another Academy Award hung on this
pivital, dramatic moment of her performance.
see, it was all part of Carol's plan," Lucy explains to uncle
Bill in the film's wrap-up. Carol used the bronze sculpture to create
the mask of her mother. The severed heads, the vandalized photos
and the mysterious voices were also part of her scheme. She planned
to kill Michael's disapproving parents and frame her unstable mother
for the crime. The doctor and the farmhand got in her way and had
to be disposed of.
suddenly becomes a paragon of virtue, a self-sacrificing mother
figure. "I'm going to Carol," she states in a mellifluous
tone that'll be familiar to any true Crawford fan. "Carol needs
me. Maybe now, I can help her."
loving care from Mommie Dearest herself, Carol should be
back to "normal" in no time.
Strait-Jacket DVD features a widescreen (1.85:1) version
of the film and some fun extras. There is a brief, but enjoyable,
ax-swinging screen test, as well as Crawford's costume and make-up
tests. It's fun to see Crawford, ever the professional, conduct
the tests while "in" character. A teaser trailer for the
film is narrated by Crawford herself and trailers for 13 Ghosts
(1960) and Mr. Sardonicus (1961) also appear on the disc.
the making of featurette, several film historians cite the success
of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) as the main influence
for Strait-Jacket. Producer and director William Castle was
so taken with Baby Jane that he set out to make his own horror/thriller
with a well-known star. Castle got Robert Bloch (Psycho,
1960) to write the script and cast Joan Blondell as his leading
lady. After an accident forced Blondell to back out, Crawford eventually
signed on as the murderous Lucy.
a filmmaker, William Castle gained a certain reputation for the
outrageous gimmicks he used to get audiences into theatres. Despite
the inflammatory language in the ad campaign (Warning! Strait-Jacket
vividly depicts ax murders!) Strait-Jacket is Castle's serious
attempt at an "A" picture. Which isn't to say that Castle
didn't also have a sense of humor. When the studio logo appears
at the end of Strait-Jacket, Columbia's Lady Liberty is missing