A Woman's Face (1941) 720p

Movie Poster
A Woman's Face (1941) - Movie Poster
Drama | Film-Noir
Frame Rate:
23.976 fps
English 2.0  
Run Time:
106 min
IMDB Rating:
7.2 / 10 
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Directors: George Cukor [Director] ,

Movie Description:
Anna Holm is a blackmailer, who because of a facial scar, despises everyone she encounters. When a plastic surgeon performs an operation to correct this disfigurement, Anna becomes torn between the hope of starting a new life, and a return to her dark past.


  • A Woman's Face (1941) - Movie Scene 1
  • A Woman's Face (1941) - Movie Scene 2
  • A Woman's Face (1941) - Movie Scene 1

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Is She Really THAT Cold-Blooded?

We first see Anna Holm (Joan Crawford) as she is escorted into a Swedish courtroom to stand before a trio of judges on the charge of Murder. A group of witnesses are called in, sworn in, and as they testify the story is told in flashbacks.

Anna has led a tough life. Her dad drunkenly set fire to her room when she was 5 years old and as a result she has burn scars on the right side of her face. So naturally this led to a lifetime of good people shunning her which pretty much guaranteed she had a future in the criminal underworld.

Her specialty? Blackmail!

Apparently, things were going alright with her enterprise until she attempted to extort $5,000 Krona from the beautiful (but easy) wife of a wealthy plastic surgeon.

And I'll just leave it there. The story is genuinely interesting and it's clever in the way it's told.

Random Notes:

It's still always a joy to see Marjorie Main, even if she is playing a rather severe, humorless, German housekeeper.

You may have seen a clip/gif online of Joan repeatedly slapping the mess out of a pretty blonde woman as she's backed into a chair. That scene comes from this movie! It happens right after Joan talks to her about the "love letters" to someone other than her husband. "Such silly letters. Such childish writing. So cheap!"

Adrian must have hated this assignment.

Conrad Veidt was faaabulous as the villain Torsten Barring.


Scarred and cynical

Joan Crawford got a plum role in A Woman's Face and George Cukor got a very good performance out of her. Especially when you consider this role was originally intended for Greta Garbo. If Garbo had done it this film would have ranked among her best.

A Woman's Face casts Crawford as the scarred and cynical leader of a gang of blackmailers and thieves who use a roadhouse cafe that she owns as the place to lure rich suckers and trim them. She was scarred shortly after her birth and on her right side looks like Gloria Grahame after Lee Marvin scalded her in The Big Heat.

Among a crowd she has one night are plastic surgeon Melvyn Douglas and no account count Conrad Veidt. Douglas is interested in her professionally, thinking he can work his plastic surgical magic. The problem is that people scorning her all her life has given Crawford a really cynical and rotten outlook on the human race.

That outlook however is just what Veidt wants. He wants to rope her into a plan to kill his young nephew so that he inherits the vast estate. On his recommendation Crawford is sent to Uncle Albert Basserman's estate to be Richard Nichols's governess. The better to gain access to the kid.

Still Crawford sees a chance for a new life and she's conflicted.

Considering this role looks tailor made for Garbo, Crawford delivers a very good performance running the gamut of emotions on screen. I also have to say that Veidt was one cunning devil of a villain. His scene with Crawford where he declares what he intends to do with the money from the estate is both chilling and timely for 1941. Definitely one of Veidt's best English language performances.

This one is a must for Joan Crawford fans.

Two Faced Woman

A Woman's Face is a trashy, pseudo-horror movie like film but one presented as an A-picture melodrama. I've watched A Woman's Face five times as of writing this review and gets better every time I watch it. Within the last year, I've felt the motivation to watch the film three times, something which is almost unheard of for me; this movie is that good. I've now decided, screw it, this is my favourite Joan Crawford film and considering there's tough competition from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Mildred Pierce and The Women, that's saying a lot.

Every major cast member in A Woman's Face is superb. I know that sounds like a generalization but it's true. Firstly there's Conrad Veidt as Torsten Barring. I adore every second this man is on screen; he's just so delightfully sinister but in the most absorbingly charming manner - I'm swept off my feet by his presence. I can completely buy into the romance he shares with Anna Holm (Crawford) because he looks past her facial disfigurement and is unbothered by it. Melvyn Douglas is the other great charmer of the cast, whom I've yet to see paired with an actress who he didn't share great chemistry. Ossa Massen, Reginald Owen, Albert Bassermann, Marjorie Main (unrecognisable here) and Donald Meek are also all equally memorable and stand in the strong characterisations of their roles. Likewise on re-watching look out for the moments of foreshadowing ("You love children? I loathe them").

Then there's Crawford herself in a once in a lifetime role as a facially disfigured woman, a part few actresses would be prepared to play. Her character of Anna Holm only engages in deceitful acts because of society's mistreatment of her since childhood but is otherwise good at heart. Anna tries to make the best for herself and doesn't dwell into a victimhood complex ("I don't care for pity ether"); she runs her own tavern, pursues different talents and less virtuously is involved in criminality. Regardless throughout the film my heart pours out for the poor woman and yet even with the disfigurement I still find Crawford to be incredibly beautiful in this film, nor does the disfigurement ever take away from the asset that is her stunning body. If anything the moment in which Anna returns from a shopping trip and is wearing a very excessive blouse to take attention away from her face is the one moment in the film in which her character comes off to me as pathetic sight.

A Woman's Face is one of the few thrillers George Cukor directed with echoes of Hitchcock throughout, such as the shots of the smelter plant and a waterfall in the background (similar to the scenery in films such as Foreign Correspondent), to the film's suspenseful scenes such as that atop the cable car. This sequence itself is absent of any music, simply allowing the sound of the nearby waterfall and the smelter plant increase the tension while the film's climax, on the other hand, offers a sort of Ben-Hur on sleds finale. Since I consider this film far superior to Hitchcock's thriller offering that year of Suspicion, Cukor out Hitchcocked Hitchcock. With Cukor being one of the great masters of his trade, the cinematography of A Woman's Face is a feast for the eyes. Technically speaking, the scenes at the hospital and Anna's subsequent unbandaging are my favourite part of the film. Along with A Woman's Face and the 1934 medical drama Men In White, it makes me wonder if it's just me or do medical interiors and apparatuses make for some of the best subjects to capture on film.

Being a remake of a Swedish film, there's something somewhat unconventional about A Woman's Face for a Hollywood film. The movie does manage to capture the essence of its Northern European setting (despite much of the cast supporting American accents) and offers a slice of Swedish culture with its dancing sequence.

I consider 1941 to be the greatest year in the history of cinema. The output of this single year is the jealous vain of entire decades and A Woman's Face just adds to this. Melodrama seems to have a bad reputation for no good reason. Like many things, it can be done well and done poorly. A Woman's Face represents the old Hollywood melodrama tailored to perfection.
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