Strait-Jacket Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by William Castle
Written by Robert Bloch
1964, 93 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on August 21st, 2018
Joan Crawford as Lucy Harbin
Diane Baker as Carol Cutler
Leif Erickson as Bill Cutler
Howard St. John as Raymond Fields
John Anthony Hayes as Michael Fields
Rochelle Hudson as Emily Cutler
George Kennedy as Leo Krause
Edith Atwater as Mrs. Alison Fields
Mitchell Cox as Dr. Anderson
One fateful night, Lucy Harbin catches her philandering husband in bed with another woman. Naturally, her first reaction is to grab the nearest axe and decapitate both of them. The fact that she is butchering these two in front of her three-year-old daughter, Carol, does not stop her from exacting her brutal revenge. Lucy’s actions earn her a room in the local insane asylum, while Carol is sent to live with her Uncle Bill and his wife on an isolated farm. 20 years later, Lucy is no longer a threat and is deemed restored to sanity and released from the hospital. Her family welcomes her home with open arms and Carol seems particularly determined to make up for lost time. She is soon to be engaged to her wealthy boyfriend and is eager to have her mother share in the festivities. Lucy tries to comply, but the pressure is too much and soon she is suffering hallucinations and a fresh string of axe murders begin. Has Lucy had a setback or is something sinister going on?
William Castle (The Tingler) was a master showman determined to step out of the long shadow cast by his perceived artistic rival Sir Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. Castle frequently employed the use of gimmicks to attract attention to his low-budget pictures and made every show a real experience. Having seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? numerous times, Castle decided his latest angle would be to cast an iconic actress in the leading role of his next horror movie. While he didn’t invent the “hag” sub-genre, he definitely profited from it when he made Strait-Jacket. Starting with just a title and then moving forward with a script written by Robert Bloch (The House That Dripped Blood), author of the book Psycho, Castle was set to attempt his most ambitious bit of casting to date.
Film legend Joan Crawford (Johnny Guitar) stars as the mentally unbalanced Lucy Harbin, throwing herself into the role with reckless abandon. Well aware that she had reached the twilight of her lengthy career, she happily signed on for this star vehicle. Crawford had become accustomed to a certain level of creative control and commanded casting and script approval here. Changes were made to suit the star, including the last minute replacement of her female co-star when Crawford felt threatened by the young beauty. Actress Diane Baker (The Silence of the Lambs) had worked with Crawford previously and was chosen to play the role of daughter Carol. The shoot went smoothly until the finale when the aging star felt Baker was getting too much attention for her performance and demanded a new series of shots that would put the focus back onto Lucy.
Her demanding behavior – including having brandy, vodka and caviar at the ready on set, would be inexcusable for a lesser talent, but honestly, she is so fantastic in this role that it was totally worth the hassles. Crawford, rapidly passing 60, plays the lead as both a 29-year-old and a 49-year-old with little concern for appearances. Her youthful wardrobe consists of a garish floral print dress paired with some jangling bracelets and a sultry wig. There is not a bit of scenery to be found that could escape her insatiable appetite. Lucy provides a wide range of emotions lunging from mousy neurotic to crazed axe-wielding hysterical. The best moment of this madcap performance comes following her makeover before meeting Carol’s boyfriend. She has a few drinks and when the guy arrives, she throws herself at him going so far at one point as to slide her fingers into his mouth. Eek. Another nice touch comes when she strikes a match off a spinning record to light her cigarette. Absolutely bad-ass.
Film nerds will find it interesting that Strait-Jacket marks the debut of Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) as Lucy’s ill-fated husband. The other notable actor early in his career here is George Kennedy (Just Before Dawn) as a suspicious farmhand. He is impressive in the part, but I doubt this picture ranked very high on his resume. One last comment on Crawford’s power plays comes through her connection to Pepsi-Cola via marriage to the company chairman. She had in part become a spokesman and had a seat on the board, so it seemed perfectly natural to her to give the role of Lucy’s psychiatrist, Dr. Anderson, to fellow board member Mitchell Cox, a man with zero connection to the film industry and was absolutely not an actor. He delivers an acceptable performance, but has no business being in this movie.
Strait-Jacket is a run-of-the-mill B-movie built on schlock and high camp, directed with glee by a master of the art. What makes this picture stand out is Crawford’s performance. She is absolutely marvelous in all her zany antics and is a real delight to watch in every minute of her ample screen time. William Castle eventually found respectability as a producer with Rosemary’s Baby (1968). This title is definitely worth picking up and watching with a group of friends. Make sure you stick around through the closing credits for a final gag that really made me smile.
Video and Audio:
A new Hi-Def transfer presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio is pretty fantastic. The black-and-white photography looks amazing and is full of sharp contrast and small-object detail.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track keeps things front and center with dialogue levels free from hiss or distortion. Music cues are rich and the classic score has never sounded better.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Scream Factory has put together a nice package of bonus features for this release, starting with an audio commentary with film historians Steve Haberman, David J. Schow and Constantine Nasr. The three men share a lot of detailed information about the shoot and the stars. The track is a real treat for fans of the picture and comes highly recommended.
In the all-new interview segment Joan Had Me Fired (7 minutes), actress Anne Helm reflects on her experiences working with the legendary screen icon on this picture. She says everything started wonderfully, but quickly soured during production. Her recollections are harrowing but fascinating.
Publicist Richard Kahn discusses working the publicity circuit for the film in On the Road with Joan Crawford (7 minutes), in which the star made countless personal appearances during the picture’s theatrical run.
The vintage documentary Battle-Axe: The Making of Strait-Jacket (15 minutes) first appeared on Sony’s 2002 DVD release and is an entertaining look back at the production. Featuring interviews with actress Diane Baker and film historian David Del Valle, the two share tales from the project what it was like working with Crawford and Castle.
Joan Crawford Costume and Makeup Tests (3 minutes) is a self-explanatory featurette that finds the silent footage accompanied by music from the film’s soundtrack.
In order to make sure she was up to the task, Crawford was given an Axe Swinging Screen Test (1 minute) in which she takes a whack at George Kennedy’s noggin followed by some gory pumping blood. Stronger than the version included within the movie, this is a fun segment.
The original theatrical trailer has been included along with a quick teaser trailer featuring Joan Crawford narration.
A photo gallery provides a look at the marketing for the film through a series of lobby cards, promotional stills and poster art, both foreign and domestic.
Missing from the Columbia DVD is the promotional featurette How to Plan a Movie Murder featuring Crawford, Castle and writer Robert Bloch discussing the project--so hang onto that disc.