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A Woman's Face

Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Cukor
Produced by Victor Saville
Written by Play:
Francis de Croisset
Screenplay:
Donald Ogden Stewart
Starring Joan Crawford
Melvyn Douglas
Conrad Veidt
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography Robert Planck
Editing by Frank Sullivan
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) May 23, 1941 (1941-05-23)
Running time 105 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Woman's Face is a 1941 drama film directed by George Cukor, and starring Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas and Conrad Veidt. The film tells the story of Anna Holm, a facially disfigured blackmailer, who because of her appearance, despises everyone she encounters. When a plastic surgeon performs an operation to correct this disfigurement, Anna becomes torn between the hope of starting a new life, and a return to her dark past.

Most of the film is told in flashbacks as witnesses in a courtroom give their testimonies. The screenplay was written by Donald Ogden Stewart, which was based on the play Il Etait Une Fois by Francis de Croisset.

Another version of the story, a Swedish production, was filmed in 1938 as En Kvinnas Ansikte, starring Ingrid Bergman.

Contents

Plot summary

Set in Sweden, the film is shown in flashbacks in the course of a trial in which a young woman, Anna Holm, is charged with the murder of aristocrat Torsten Barring.

The events, as described by the witnesses, begin years before when Torsten Barring is hosting a party at a rural tavern. The guests include Vera, the faithless wife of noted plastic surgeon Gustav Segert. When the tavern will no longer extend his credit, Torsten meets the proprietress Anna Holm — whose face is badly scarred as a result of a fire caused when her father drunkenly burned down their home. Torsten charms her into signing his check. They then become close, Torsten treating Anna as if she is beautiful and charming rather than scarred and unpleasant. Anna suspiciously asks what trouble he is in and he implies that although things are fine at the moment he may need her help in the future.

Anna is in fact the leader of a gang of blackmailers. She holds a deep contempt for people due to her injuries. She obtains letters proving that Vera is having an affair and demands money for them. While Vera is getting her jewels to pay for the letters, Gustav comes home unexpectedly and Anna falls as she tries to elude him. Thinking that Anna is a thief, Gustav wants to call the police, but Vera pretends to take pity on her and convinces him to let her go. Gustav becomes intrigued by Anna's scars and caustic manner and offers to perform plastic surgery on her.

Anna is submitted to over twelve operations and within two years she has turned into a beautiful woman no longer ridiculed by strangers. After leaving Gustav's Swiss clinic, she returns to Torsten who was unaware of what she has been up to all this time and is taken in by her new-found physical beauty. She assures him that in spite of this she has not yet joined the side of the angels. Torsten thus obliquely tells her that his uncle, Consul Magnus Barring, who is very old and very rich, is leaving everything to his four-year-old grandson, but, if something happens to the grandson, Torsten will inherit instead. Anna is at first horrified at what he is driving at but is compelled through love for Torsten to agree.

Using the name "Ingrid Paulson", Anna is hired as a governess on Torsten's recommendation and goes to live at the Barring chateau. Despite her attempts to remain aloof, she finds that she likes the kindly Consul and his sweet-natured grandson, Lars-Erik. Torsten soon joins them but other guests also include Gustav the plastic surgeon who recognises "Ingrid" as Anna. Thinking that she has softened and changed her name to start a new life, Gustav does not reveal her true identity. The next day, while secretly trying to listen to a conversation between Torsten and Gustav, Anna leaves Lars-Erik too long under his sun lamp and her genuine distress at his near-injuries makes Torsten suspicious of her resolve to kill the boy. He gives her an ultimatum that Lars-Erik must die before the next night and she reluctantly agrees because she loves him.

The incident, however, causes Gustav to become suspicious of Anna, especially after seeing her talking with Torsten at the nearby falls. Anna takes Lars-Erik for an open cable car ride across the falls. Halfway across, the boy comes perilously close to falling out of the basket, but, instead of pushing him over, Anna pulls him back to safety and hugs him, overcome with remorse. Seeing Anna embrace Lars-Erik, Gustav decides that she has changed for the better.

On the Consul's birthday Anna gives him a portable chess board. A multiple sleigh ride in the snow is organised. As they set off Anna suddenly sees Lars-Erik in the same sleigh as Torsten. Panicking for the boy's safety, she gets Gustav to pursue them, confessing to the whole plot and how she now hates Torsten. When they reach the sleigh, Torsten won't stop so Anna takes out a gun and shoots him. They save Lars-Erik and Torsten's body slips into the falls.

Anna stands trial for Torsten's murder, during which the whole story is made public. However, the court is not fully satisfied that she has changed her ways and that she genuinely killed her victim in order to protect another potential one. There is a possibility that she might be convicted. However, Anna suddenly reveals that she placed a letter confessing to the whole thing in the present she gave to the Consul. The Consul denies ever finding such as letter whereupon Emma Kristiansdotter, his housekeeper, reveals that she has it — having taken it away in the belief that it was part of a scheme by Anna to seduce and marry the Consul for his money.

The letter in fact reveals that Anna, torn over the past events, had decided to commit suicide and was warning the Consul of his nephew's plot to dispose of Lars-Erik. While the judges adjourn to consider their verdict, Vera tries to reconcile with her husband Gustav but he refuses due to her numerous infidelities and goes to Anna. They profess their love for each other and he proposes after which the court attendant says that the judges are ready to give their decision and suggests that Gustav might want to come along as well.

Cast

Reception

Variety observed, "Miss Crawford takes a radical step as a screen glamour girl to allow the makeup necessary for facial disfiguration in the first half...[Crawford] has a strongly dramatic and sympathetic role...which she handles in top-notch fashion."[1]

See also

References

  1. ^ Quirk, Lawrence J.. The Films of Joan Crawford. The Citadel Press, 1968.

External links

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