This is the first film I have watched in a new challenge, "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." The challenge doesn't start until September 8, but I jumped ahead because Craig's Wife is leaving the Criterion Channel at the end of this month. Craig's Wife is from Week 5, "watch a previously unseen film adapted from or based on a stage play."
This is the first Dorothy Arzner film I have seen, so I can't speak to any career-long traits to her directing. While her treatment of Harriet, "Craig's wife", led me to find Harriet unlikable, George Kelly, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play on which the film is based, apparently disagreed. As Molly Haskell relates,
Kelly was apparently horrified at Arzner's interpretation.
"I imagined Mr Craig was dominated somewhat by his mother and therefore fell in love with a woman stronger than he," [Arzner] said in the same interview. "I thought Mr Craig should be down on his knees with gratitude because Mrs Craig made a man of him. When I told Kelly this, he rose to his six-foot height, and said, 'That is not my play. Walter Craig was a sweet guy and Mrs Craig was an SOB.' He left. That was the only contact I had with Kelly."
Harriet is the tragic figure in Craig's Wife ... I just can't tell how sorry we are supposed to feel for her. I wanted her to get her comeuppance, but between Arzner's presentation and the acting of Rosalind Russell, I also felt sympathy for her. Harriet was striving for the only thing she felt was available to her as a woman of her time: security, which is represented by her home (the film could have been called "Craig's Wife's Home"), which she gets by marrying a man with money. She doesn't let her husband or anyone else get in the way of her home/security, which eventually leaves her alone in that home. It served her right and I felt bad for her anyway.
This was Russell's first top billing. I've never thought of myself as a big fan, but she co-stars in one of my favorite movies, His Girl Friday, and it may just be that I haven't seen enough of the movies she made earlier in her career. Billie Burke pops up, and for people of my generation, just hearing her voice brings memories of Glinda the Good Witch.
(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)