Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:          

FEMALE ON THE BEACH. Universal International, 1955. Joan Crawford, Jeff Chandler, Jan Sterling, Cecil Kellaway, Natalie Schafer. Director: Joseph Pevney.

   There’s that infamous scene in The Hustler (1961), the one anybody who’s ever watched the film will not easily forget. Where Piper Laurie’s character uses lipstick to scribble on a bathroom mirror, following a seedy dalliance with George C. Scott’s character and just prior to taking her own life. The words: PERVERTED. TWISTED. CRIPPLED. Those words speak volumes about the lurid, seedy, sad atmosphere that permeates Robert Rossen’s masterpiece.

   And that’s the same type of environment that seems to exist in the 1955 thriller, Female on the Beach, in which a (miscast) thirty-something Jeff Chandler portrays Drummond Hall, a rather uninspiring character who falls for, and marries, a fifty-year old sauced up widow, Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford). For most of the movie, we are led to believe that “Drummy” (Chandler) murdered the previous tenant of Markham’s beach house and that he ultimately has his eye on Markham’s life as well. Notice that I say: “seems to.” That’s because the story, the characters, and the atmosphere never quite gel into a coherent, believable cinematic whole.

   But it’s not for a lack of trying.

   In fact, the movie tries too hard to be something that it’s not: a compellingly watchable murder mystery. And don’t let the black and white cinematography fool you, for it’s not noir, either. Not remotely. Instead, it’s a middling thriller with some good moments, over the top acting from Joan Crawford, and a lurid, psychologically twisted claustrophobic Orange County, California beach house setting. I guess that’s worth something.

   The push-and-pull, cat-and-mouse love affair between Chandler and Crawford is alternately bizarre, off-putting, and unintentionally hilarious. Check that: maybe it was intended to be funny, or at least tongue firmly in cheek. Make no mistake: Female on the Beach is a strange movie about strange characters doing strange things on the beach. But ultimately, despite Chandler’s best efforts at portraying a character quite different from those larger than life heroes he often portrays, it’s not a particularly engrossing film.