Strait-Jacket is a 1964 American thriller film starring Joan Crawford and Diane Baker in a macabre mother and daughter tale about a series of axe-murders. Released byColumbia Pictures, the film was directed and produced by William Castle, and co-produced by Dona Holloway. The screenplay was the first of two written for Castle byRobert Bloch, the second being The Night Walker (1964). Strait-Jacket marks the first big-screen appearance of Lee Majors in the uncredited role of Crawford's husband.
After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Joan Crawford and other older actresses, including Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck, made numerous horror movies throughout the 1960s. Strait-Jacket is one of the more notable examples of the genre sometimes referred to as psycho-biddy or Grande Dame Guignol. During the film's original release, moviegoers were given little cardboard axes as they entered the theater.
Lucy Harbin has spent twenty years in a psychiatric hospital for the decapitation axe-murder of her husband (Lee Majors) and his mistress, after catching him cheating on her. After she is released, she takes up residence at the farm of her brother Bill Cutler and sister-in-law Emily.
Lucy's adult daughter Carol, an artist and sculptor, also lives on the Cutler farm and is seemingly unaffected by the grisly murders she witnessed many years in the past as a three year-old child. Carol encourages her mother to dress and act the way she did in the past. Lucy begins playing the vamp and makes passes at her daughter's fiance Michael Fields. She then shocks his parents with a sudden tantrum when they consider their son's marriage to Carol out of the question.
A series of brutal axe-murders begin with Lucy's doctor, who is found in the freezer, and the shady hired man Leo. All signs point to Lucy as the murderer and some believe she is still insane, and should be returned to the hospital. However, the climax of the film reveals that the recent axe-murders have been committed by Carol, who has gone to great lengths to portray her mother as a still-active murderer by doing things that stoked Lucy's anxieties and even duplicating her mother's appearance when she kills (copying her mother's head and face with a mask she fashioned herself). Carol hoped that somehow with Michael's parents out of the way she could marry the handsome, wealthy young man. As the film ends, Lucy calmly accepts her responsibility for her daughter's illness and hatred and announces that she is going to visit Carol in the hospital where she is now confined.
- Joan Crawford as Lucy Cutler Harbin
- Diane Baker as Carol Harbin
- Leif Erickson as Bill Cutler
- George Kennedy as Leo
- Lee Majors as Frank Harbin
- Howard St. John as Raymond Fields
- Edith Atwater as Mrs. Fields
- John Anthony Hayes as Michael Fields
- Rochelle Hudson as Emily Cutler
Crawford replaced Joan Blondell in the role of Lucy Harbin after Blondell was injured at home prior to shooting and could not fulfill her commitment. Crawford's negotiations included script and cast approval, a $50,000 salary, and 15 percent of the profits. Anne Helm, who was originally cast in the role as Carol, was replaced by Diane Baker, reportedly at Crawford's insistence. Baker and Crawford had appeared together in the filmThe Best of Everything (1959). Despite Baker's assertion (on the featurette accompanying the DVD for "Strait-Jacket") that she replaced Anne Helm in the role of Carol Harbin due to Helm's alleged inexperience and incompetence, Anne Helm was, in actuality, a more seasoned actress than Baker at that time.
The role of Lucy's doctor was played by vice-president of PepsiCo, Mitchell Cox, as Crawford was on the Board of Directors of the soft drink firm. Pepsi-Cola product placements include a scene in the kitchen with a carton of the soft drink displayed prominently on a counter.
A variant of the Columbia Pictures logo appears at the end of the film, showing a decapitated Torch Lady, her severed head resting at her feet. Her torch does not shine.
Variety noted, "Miss Crawford does well by her role, delivering an animated performance."
Judith Crist commented in the New York Herald Tribune, "...it's time to get Joan Crawford out of those housedress horror B movies and back into haute couture...this madness-and-murder tale...might have been a thriller, given Class A treatment."
Elaine Rothschild in Films in Review wrote, "...I am full of admiration for Joan Crawford, for even in drek like this she gives a performance."
Bosley Crowther, never a fan of Crawford's, wrote a scathing review in The New York Times, declaring, "Joan Crawford has picked some lemons, some very sour lemons, in her day, but nigh the worst of the lot is "Strait-Jacket...", and goes on to call the film a "...disgusting piece of claptrap."
The film has reasonably high reviews on the Internet Movie Database, with a score of 6.8 out of 10, based on 2,123 votes (February 2013). The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's bookThe Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.
Strait-Jacket was released on Region 1 DVD on March 12, 2002. On February 4, 2014, it was re-released on Region 1 DVD as part of Sony Pictures' "Choice Collection" online program.