While William Castle was known for his gimmicks to make sure viewers saw his movies in the theater, he discovered that you can’t get a bigger gimmick than Joan Crawford on a homicidal rampage. The Oscar winner had scored a comeback with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but shared the screen with Bette Davis. She wanted to keep her new horror audience without teaming up with another aging star of classic Hollywood. Columbia Pictures brought her together with their top horror director in William Castle and Robert Bloch, the screenwriter of Psycho. Strait-Jacket was proved this combination wasn’t nuts.
Lucy Harbin (Crawford) came home early to discover her young husband (The Six Million Dollar Man‘s Lee Majors) in bed with a much younger woman. Instead of dealing with it rationally using a divorce lawyer, Lucy grabs an ax and cuts off their heads. What Lucy doesn’t realize is that her young daughter has seen it all. Lucy gets sent off to an insane asylum and spends time in a strait-jacket as daughter Carol gets sent off to be raised by a much nicer and saner family. Twenty years later Lucy gets released and returns home. Carol (Marnie‘s Diane Baker) is extra nervous with mom being around especially when there’s a knife or ax nearby. Can Lucy be really cured of her homiciald rage? The daughter’s fears seem to be worthwhile as people begin to disappear and mom has no good alibis. Is mom still hacking away people?
William Castle ups his game for making Joan Crawford the star of his film. He doesn’t have to worry about an off screen gimmick so the film doesn’t need to pause so the audience can decide the real killer. Joan Crawford will decide on the real killer. Bloch’s script keeps you guessing until the big reveal. This is an entertaining film from Castle that just lets Crawford be the big effect especially when she’s swinging away. In a sense Joan did become his theater gimmick too since they went on a tour of movie houses to get butts in the seats. There are moments of Castle’s humor on the screen, but not overpowering the tension. Stay until the end so you can see a great sight gag involving the classic Columbia Pictures logo.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer lets you enjoy Joan Crawford playing a character over the course of 20 years. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. You’ll be able to hear ax hits. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman and David J Schow gets to the heart of Crawford and Castle teaming up. They point out that this role has the haircut that made Joan popular with drag queens.
Joan Had Me Fired (6:47) lets Anne Helm discuss how she was axed from the film. William Castle wanted her.Joan was very sweet to her at first. Things got nasty when she drank a Coke near Joan.
On the Road with Joan Crawford (6:35) lets publicist Richard Kahn talk of their promotional tour. She had been promoting her films for 30 years so it wasn’t a shock to turn out for the fans. She wanted a bus tricked out to be a home and hit as many theaters as possible across the country. They would pause the film and surprise the audience as she walked out.
Battle-Axe: The Making of Strait-Jacket (14:40) talks about how William Castle, Joan Crawford and the ax came together. Diane Baker recounts how she came on late.
Joan Crawford Costume and Makeup Tests (3:29) features her working the outfits and her face. She didn’t take anything too casual when she was working and the camera was rolling except if her dog was around.
Ax Swinging Screen Test (O:38) has Joan chop away and blood pour from fake George Kennedy neck.
Trailers (2:38) warns the audience that there will be ax-murders. Joan begs you to not reveal the surprise shock ending.
Still Gallery (2;17) has publicity pictures and posters.
Scream Factory presents Strait-Jacket. Directed by William Castle. Screenplay by: Robert Bloch. Starring: Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Rochelle Hudson and Lee Majors. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 93 minutes. Released: August 21, 2018.
Tags: Joan Crawford, Scream Factory, Strait-Jacket, william castle