Going against one’s nature can either lead to unexpected good things or very foreseeable bad things and in this film, Barbara Stanwyck’s character Kathy does just that to marry the man she loves. Given the title of the film and one particular scene where Kathy spells out just who she is and what she wants in life to Police Lieutenant Bill Doyle as portrayed by Sterling Hayden, viewers know that a happy ending is not in the cards for either of them and yet, against all odds, they decide to give it a try, forgetting what was just said in search of happiness with each other.
Directed by Gerd Oswald and written by Jo Eisinger, Crime of Passion is a film noir a little different than most as there are no darkened streets or alleyways or furtive men, no danger lurking around every corner. Instead what audiences receive is Stanwyck as the femme fatale, a role she has played more than once, yet this time she finds herself amongst the chattering wives of suburbia who have nothing to gossip about except the routine as if that was all there were to life. She often finds herself drawn across the room to where the men sit, discussing politics or the cases they are working on down at the police station and every time she is sent back to be with the other wives, that being her new station in life. It only lasts so long before Kathy who was an advice columnist and a very independent woman before her marriage decides to take things into her own hands, as she decides to take her husband’s career on as her new project and to advance it through various means which those jabbering women would never dare to do.
Despite its suburban landscape, the film is a moody one painted not only by Eisinger’s smart script but by the actions of Stanwyck who carries the picture with Hayden just a step behind, the music by Paul Dunlap which enhances more than one scene by making them dramatically heavier in tone and the cinematography of Joseph LaShelle who gives the film shadows when few are expected. As the movie progresses, beginning as one thing and ending as another, one cannot help but be fascinated by the character work by Stanwyck as she makes Kathy come alive during the second act, the thrill of her machinations satisfying her more than the love of the man she is doing it all for. It is for love though that she does all of this and when it is all said and done and her crime of passion is uncovered, that love is still present as she goes willingly to her doom.
With added performances from Raymond Burr who does an excellent job as the police inspector who is Bill’s boss and Kathy’s target, Fay Wray in a bit part as Burr’s sickly yet loving wife as well as Virginia Grey and Royal Dano, the cast was in top form. Crime of Passion would never be remembered as one of Stanwyck’s best films as she had proven herself with multiple hits beforehand, but it is a solid effort from the tail-end of her big-screen career and makes for worthy viewing.