Plot: What’s it about?
After she discovered her husband in bed with another woman, Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford) snaps and does the unthinkable. She takes a sharp ax and leaves behind blood soaked sheets, as he hacked the couple beyond all recognition. As she chopped the adulterous lovers into pieces, she had no idea her young daughter had seen the entire ordeal, not the kind of visions you want as a child, to say the least. Soon enough, the police have rounded up Lucy and since her mind seems to be all but lost, she is locked in a mental institution to recover. As the years pass, Lucy shows signs of improvement and after two decades within the walls of the hospital, she is released back into the public to find a new life for herself. She is taken in by her brother, who lives with his wife and Lucy’s now grown daughter, Carol (Diane Baker). It seems like her life is settling down once again, but then a series of ax murders unfolds in the area, which has police thinking her release might have been a mistake. Is Lucy back to her old blade swinging antics, or is there some other, perhaps even darker explanation for the murders?
This is one cool movie, no doubt about it. I mean, we have Joan Crawford in a campish attempt to cash in on Psycho’s success and to top it all off, the project was produced & directed by William Castle himself. Yes, most of the cash-in flicks reek to high heaven, but Castle delivers a fun, always enjoyable picture. The storyline is basic, but effective and while it has flaws, it never becomes complicated enough to stress them, which means the problems aren’t too obvious. That last statement does not include the various outlandish plot twists, but in a movie like Strait-Jacket, you need some insane twists & turns, I think. Although Castle was well known for his use of gimmicks, Strait-Jacket gets by on its own merits, but rest assured, it has Castle’s fingerprints all over it, especially the closing scenes. But as much as Castle’s magic touch is present, Strait-Jacket moves up a ton of notches thanks to Joan Crawford, who turns in a horrific, memorable performance, one simply not to be missed. This is a great movie if you’re a fan of outlandish thrillers & Castle’s pictures, so don’t hesitate to pick up this terrific treatment.
She was once a top rank star in the Hollywood system, but Joan Crawford soon fell into the abyss of low budget, often trashy motion pictures. Of course, she claimed that that era of her career isn’t even worth a look, but if you ask me, some nice gems can be found in that time period, including Strait-Jacket. Unlike a lot of once big name stars forced into lower profile roles, Crawford doesn’t sleepwalk and collect a check, she leaves it all up on the screen in a haunting, unforgettable performance. I mean, I think all actors should do their best in all their projects, but Crawford seems to think she is in an Oscar level film and even when the material turns into camp, she remains serious and intense. Other films with Crawford include Love on the Run, Strange Cargo, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and of course, The Karate Killers. The cast also includes Diane Baker (The Net, Sands of Beersheba), Leif Erickson (Invaders from Mars, The Fasted Gun Alive), and George Kennedy (The Naked Gun, Cool Hand Luke).
Video: How does it look?
Strait-Jacket is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I had some worries about the film would look, since it is almost four decades old, but Columbia has risen to the challenge and issued a terrific visual presentation. The print used has no serious flaws, with only minor grain, marks, and other defects to report, which is splendid news indeed. The lack of print flaws allows for a clean, sharp image that should please all viewers, especially those who’ve viewed the film in previous, poorer editions. The black & white visuals are stark and on the mark here, thanks to smooth black levels that never obscure detail in the least. I think this is some commendable work from Columbia, as most studios would have rushed this out, but they made sure the film looked up to snuff, very cool indeed.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included mono option has no fatal flaws, but it is an older mono track and has the battle scars to prove its age. I was never overly distracted by the age related issues, but they are present and you’ll hear them, to be sure. I noticed some hiss, harshness, and muffled moments, but in the end, these were never overbearing, so I doubt anyone will be too troubled. As far as mono tracks from this time period are concerned, this one is solid enough and scores about the same as other good tracks. No problems with dialogue either, as vocals were smooth and never hard to understand, even for a single scene. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, should you need those options.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main attraction here is Battle-Ax: The Making of Strait-Jacket, a new fourteen minute retrospective featurette that is well worth a look. The piece has interviews with star Diane Baker and a few film historians, who discuss William Castle’s persona, the film’s production, and of course, memories of Joan Crawford and her performance here. The time seems a little short, but not a second is wasted and this is one featurette that rises above promotional fluff. This disc also includes a humorous screen test involving chopping off fake heads, Crawford’s costume & makeup tests, and the film’s theatrical trailer.