In her hey day, Joan Crawford was one of MGM’s top selling artists. By 1955, (17 years before WHTBJ) Joan Crawford’s star at rival studio Columbia Pictures was fading. Her legendary love life overshadowed her career as she was engaged to Pepsi giant, Al Steele, at the time.
Queen Bee was a part written for Joan by debut director (and writer of her Oscar winning performance in Mildred Pierce), Randald MacDougall. Perhaps, he wanted to lay it bare for his audience, the monster they created?
According to Hollywood legend, her daughter, Christina Crawford was so disturbed and unnerved by Joan’s “acting”, she had to leave the theatre when she first saw it.
This was apparently Joan’s caustic, violent and abusive personality when she was drinking with her friends, and MacDougall’s role for her gives a glimpse of perhaps further evidence to validating the claims of Christina Crawford’s childhood depicted in Mommy Dearest.
An intensely bitter Eva Philips, the treacherous, malignant narcissist wife of boozy textile magnate Avery Philips (played by Barry Sullivan) and the mother of their two children (a boy and a girl who bear uncanny resemblances to her own adopted children, Christopher and Christina Crawford), has a cruel bark that’s even worse than her vicious bite.
It’s clear, as the movie progresses, Eva must have what she wants (all the male attention in her social circle) no matter who she betrays or what may come of her victims.
Those who “oppose her” suffer the dire consequences of her ire, and not all of her female opponents survive.
Carol Philips (played by Betsey Palmer), explains the icy reception given to Eva by her relatives to sweet, unsuspecting Jennifer, by explaining something she learned about Queen Bees.
Rather like Joan Crawford’s real life, all the men served as drones, the women mere competition to her vanity. Like the Queen Bee that controls the hive, Eva lashes out, berates and emotionally manipulates every female member of her close circle until they either go mad, escape her desperate clutches or die.
The movie opens with the arrival of Cousin Jennifer (Lucy Marlow), before Eva, to a small gathering at the Philip mansion. By the end of the first scene, (after the arrival of Eva) it’s clear by the awkward tension, fleeing guests and arguments that things are not as they seem.
The inflection never matches the delivery, and each word spoken meant either to hurt, or to smother her target with affection to get her way.
Eva is charming, but her sickly, bittersweet charms are pure poison. Only her children, husband and Jennifer can survive her venomous schemes.
Judson Prentiss, (played by real life lover, John Ireland) the Beau of sister-in-law Carol, is having an affair with Eva.
The night before the young couple plans to leave the Philip mansion, and finally marry, Eva confesses the affair to Carol and tell her to ask Judd. “Philips aren’t afraid,” she taunts.
Carol then commits suicide in the barn.
This is the beginning of the end for this bitter, antagonistic vulture of a woman.
Eva, still lashing out at her husband, Avery, with every chance she gets as her lover Judd, gives his notice at the mill to escape the guilt of his role in Carol’s suicide.
Avery hatches a plot to absorb whatever Eva throws his way and return it with gushing affection in an attempt to win her over. He seals her fate with a piece of jewelry she once said she could die happy with. Prophetic, really.
By the end, the men outwit one another for the privilege of killing her to end their suffering and spare the rest of the family her endless rounds of ubiquitous cruelty.
Catch Queen Bee on TCM on Demand or online at Amazon.com, if you dare!
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