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An Interesting Look at Gender Stereotypes in Film-Noir Crime of Passion

Crime of Passion

Barbara Stanwyck and Sterling Hayden star in Crime of Passion, a noir crime film from 1957. Stanwyck plays Kathy, a strong, intelligent, independent career woman who has foregone romance and marriage for a job as an advice columnist for the lovelorn with a San Francisco newspaper. Stanwyck falls in love with Hayden who plays Lieutenant Bill Doyle, a veteran police detective.  They embark on a whirlwind romance, she gives up her career, they get married and she relocates to Los Angeles where he works.

Not surprisingly, determined and self assured career-woman Kathy is bored out of her skull. She hates suburban domesticity so much that we can almost see her suffocating. Bill is a gentle, loving husband who wants nothing more than to stay in his job and enjoy his new wife. His new bride unfortunately does not share his dreams. In Kathy’s eyes, he lacks ambition, this infuriates her. This is not a great start for these newlyweds.

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With frequent dinner parties, easy-going Bill enjoys a warm relationship with his colleagues and their wives. Having worked around men in the newspaper it’s obvious that Kathy prefers the men’s company. After attending several of these cocktail parties, Kathy quickly decides that she is too ambitious and intelligent for these simple-minded “Ladies Who Lunch” types and resents being stuck in the kitchen with these silly women and their gossip.

It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she made a mistake giving up her job. Rather than pursuing another position and getting back to her own career ambitions, Kathy decides on a new plan. With no job, time on her hands, and with no scruples to speak of, ambitious and manipulative Kathy focuses all of her attention on making in her opinion, some much-needed changes in their lives to raise his profile in the department. She does this by manipulating certain “coincidences” to get close to his superior thereby getting him the promotion she wants for him.

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Sterling Hayden is excellent as the not-too ambitious, but nevertheless level-headed, good-hearted police lieutenant. Actor and author Hayden who specialized in film-noirs and westerns was also famous for his defining role in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and as the corrupt Irish-American New York Police Captain in The Godfather.

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Raymond Burr plays Hayden’s hard-nosed superior Police Inspector and eventual illicit lover of Kathy. I enjoy watching Raymond Burr’s films. He was an amazing character actor who played different roles in numerous film in the 1940’s and 50’s and then later in his two tv series Perry Mason and Ironside. Playing heavies was his forte. Burr was an amazing villain! Remember him as the wife killer Lars Thorwald that James Stewart’s wheelchair-bound character was after in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Crime of Passion came just before he took on his most famous role as Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Perry Mason. Fay Wray, who played King-Kong’s heroine played the small role of Burr’s wife.

Gender stereotypes was often treated comically in other films of the time, but in this film there was quite an interesting social message. Director Gerd Oswald’s film credits include his directorial debut and cult classic A Kiss Before Dying, Brainwashed, a German film as well as numerous tv credits including Perry Mason, Bonanza, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, Star Trek, Gentle Ben, It Takes a Thief, The Twilight Zone.

The cinematography was deftly handled by Joseph Lashelle who had a reputation as one of Hollywood’s foremost stylists. He had the amazing ability to create a particularly dark ambience in his films, chiefly film noirs of the era by utilizing certain techniques in lighting, decor, close-ups and specific camera angles. This is never more obvious than in those claustrophobic scenes heightening Kathy’s slow domestic suffocation.

Film and television writer Jo Eisinger who penned the screenplay for Crime of Passion had a career that began in the 1940’s and lasted until his death in 1991. He was the writer of famous film noirs such as Gilda (1946) starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford and British film noir Night and the City (1950) starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney.


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