CRIME OF PASSION. United Artists, 1957. Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, Fay Wray, Virginia Grey, Royal Dano. Original story and screenplay: Jo Eisinger. Director: Gerd Oswald.

   Call it what you will: a crime film, a film noir, or a proto-feminist melodrama. But make no mistake about it. Crime of Passion is most definitely a Barbara Stanwyck vehicle. So much so that one could say that Stanwyck, who is front and center throughout the proceedings, is the auteur of this United Artists release. Directed by craftsman Gerd Oswald, this somewhat average black and white thriller also benefits from the presence of co-stars and supporting cast members including Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, and a young Robert Quarry as a newsroom worker.

   Stanwyck portrays Kathy Ferguson, a tough as nails San Francisco newspaper columnist. She’s a career woman with no desire to marry and settle down. Not until she meets visiting Los Angeles detective Lieutenant Bill Doyle (Hayden), who is up north searching for a Southern California woman accused of killing her husband. Soon enough, Kathy and Bill are married and living a seemingly idyllic suburban existence in the San Fernando Valley. But soon suburban dinner parties and boredom get to Kathy. It’s clear that she wants more in life. Both for herself and for Bill, whom she thinks is deserving of a better position in the police force.

   Enter Bill’s superior at the LAPD. When Kathy meets Inspector Tony Pope (Burr), she takes an immediate interest in his passion for solving difficult cases. Soon, however, the passion between the two takes a more sordid turn, with Kathy and Tony sharing a night together. When Tony decides that it was all a mistake, Kathy is despondent. And never underestimate a character portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck, especially when she has access to a gun.

   Despite Stanwyck’s formidable screen presence, Crime of Passion never quite gels as a movie. Yes, there are a few plot holes and implausibilities. But those aren’t what end up making this movie an interesting but not particularly memorable affair. No. It’s the fact that, while the plot may have worked well enough on paper, the movie’s story — the radical transformation of Kathy from a tough single newspaperwoman into a helplessly in love housewife and then into a scheming and impassioned killer — feels too forced. It’s this artificiality that makes this particular Stanwyck film a pale imitation of so many of her other works.