Cast & Crew
Chicagoan Jennifer Stewart arrives at the Southern home of her cousin, Eva Phillips, who has pressured her into moving in with her family. Shortly after arriving, Jennifer overhears an argument between Eva's sister-in-law Carol Lee Phillips, and her fiancé Judson Prentis, about announcing their engagement, then Carol introduces her to Eva's husband Avery, and the neighbors Sue McKinnon and her brother Ty. When Eva arrives home, the McKinnons depart hastily and Eva blithely explains to Jennifer that Sue begrudges her for taking Avery away from her years before. When a drunken Avery and Eva begin quarreling, Carol ushers a startled Jennifer away. Over the next few days, Jennifer learns more about her family, as she settles into being a personal assistant to Eva, whom she greatly admires. When Avery dryly attempts to point out to Jennifer her naiveté about his wife, she criticizes his manner towards Eva. Later, Jennifer is shocked when Carol frankly admits that she hates Eva, but does not elaborate why. That evening, Jud asks Jennifer not to reveal his engagement, insisting that the need for secrecy is Carol's idea. A little later, Jennifer is taken aback by Eva's familiarity with Jud and further surprised when, after Jud reveals the engagement, Eva speculates that the marriage will never occur. One night Jennifer finds Carol comforting Eva's young son Ted after a nightmare and when she asks after Eva, Carol ruefully explains that Eva uses people, describing her as a heartless "queen bee" of the hive. When Jennifer protests that Eva has always unselfishly provided for her, Carol reveals that Avery, not Eva, paid for Jennifer's education and daily support after the death of Jennifer's parents. The following evening, Jennifer accidentally sees Eva attempting to kiss Jud, who refuses and walks away. Eva follows and Jennifer overhears their discussion. Jud protests that their relationship ended ten years earlier when Eva married Avery and Jud insists on his love for Carol, but Eva scoffs at him. When Jennifer confronts Eva about her harshness, her cousin explains the difficulty she felt moving into the hidebound and traditionally Southern Phillips family and the measures she felt necessary to take to protect herself from permanent outsider status. Confused, Jennifer suggests that she is considering returning to Chicago, but Eva persuades her to remain. Jennifer then tells Avery that she has learned more about her cousin and after apologizing for doubting him, seeks his help in thwarting Eva's intention to disrupt Carol and Jud's marriage. Avery admits to knowing about Eva and Jud's past. When Jennifer wonders whether Avery will ever like her, he responds by kissing her, which startles her. The next day, Avery summons the family and, to Eva's displeasure, announces that Carol and Jud will marry that weekend. The night before the wedding, Eva returns from a party to overhear Carol and Jennifer discussing Carol's wedding plans. When Jennifer realizes Eva is going to reveal her past with Jud to Carol, she attempts to intervene, but is unsuccessful. Eva hints broadly about the affair, but Carol refuses to discuss the situation and departs. The following morning, a worried Jud asks Jennifer if she has seen Carol. After a search, they find Carol dead in the stable, having hanged herself the night before. When Jennifer tells Eva, she breaks down and goes into a two week withdrawal, forcing Jennifer to try to care for Ted and his sister Trissa, despite the condescending attitude of the nanny, Miss Breen. Ignoring Avery's advice, Jud announces his intention to quit the family business and refuses to give further explanation. When Avery observes Jennifer's strained appearance, she admits to great stress due to her attraction to him, but he tells her they can have no future together. Unknown to them both, Eva has overheard their conversation. Jennifer discovers Miss Breen slapping the children and informs Avery, who promptly fires the nanny, despite her arch suggestions that she will have to explain the situation between Avery and Jennifer to Eva. When Jennifer notices a palpable tension between Jud and Avery, she questions Jud, who angrily believes Avery broke his word and told Carol about his relationship with Eva. Jennifer tells him that Eva told Carol, infuriating Jud. Avery informs Eva that he wants a divorce, but she belittles his affection for Jennifer and promises she will fight any divorce action. Eva warns him to stay away from Jennifer and demands that Miss Breen be rehired. Soon after, Avery becomes very attentive to Eva, who is initially suspicious, then delighted. Jennifer is crushed and Jud suspicious when Eva and Avery announce their plan to have a second honeymoon. On the night of a large party at a neighbor's, Jud confronts Avery on his change of attitude, and Avery admits his plan to kill Eva in a car accident that night. Jud then tells Eva that Avery has been slightly delayed for the party and offers to drive her, despite the heavy rain. Eva agrees and on the car ride, Jud stuns Eva by revealing Avery's plan. When Eva realizes Jud intends to complete Avery's plan, she struggles, but Jud succeeds in driving the car off a cliff, killing them both. Avery, who has followed in a frantic attempt to stop the pair, is filled with despair, but receives loving support from Jennifer.
Willa Pearl Curtis
Best Costume Design
Tagline for Queen Bee
By her own admission, Joan Crawford was rarely as evil on screen as in Queen Bee, a heated 1955 romantic melodrama in which she plays a Southern social dragon with magnolia on her lips and poison in her heart. Even at the character's most outlandish, whether demolishing a rival's bedroom or driving a family member to suicide, she plays the role with a straight-on seriousness that makes the film work both as character study and camp classic. As a sign that, at least in Hollywood, the picture was viewed seriously, it captured Oscar® nominations for Charles Lang's black and white cinematography and Jean Louis's gowns.
Crawford was still in the midst of the career revival triggered by her surprise 1952 hit Sudden Fear (also shot by Lang) when she signed a generous three-picture deal at Columbia Pictures. Her first film under that contract marked a reunion with screenwriter Ranald MacDougall, who had penned two of her biggest Warner Bros. hits, Mildred Pierce (1945) and Possessed (1947), and producer Jerry Wald, who had cast her in Mildred Pierce. This time out they adapted a popular romantic novel by Edna Lee that had been serialized in Women's Home Companion before its 1949 publication. Always a faithful friend, when Crawford learned that MacDougall wanted to move into directing, she insisted he make his debut with Queen Bee.
With Wald producing, Columbia put its greatest behind-the-scenes talents to work on the film, including composer George Duning, who would score Picnic the same year; director Lang and costumer Jean Louis. Ironically, Crawford had turned down a chance to work with Louis a few years earlier. Wald had wanted to cast her as the adulterous military wife in From Here to Eternity (1953), but when Crawford insisted on bringing in her own costumer rather than wear Louis's wardrobe, studio head Harry Cohn cast Deborah Kerr instead.
At a time when it was difficult to find leading men who could hold their own against Crawford, Wald found two strong, masculine actors -- Barry Sullivan, cast against type, as her henpecked husband, and John Ireland as the lover she refuses to give up. Sullivan had played a more conventional leading man opposite Crawford's arch-rival Bette Davis in Payment on Demand (1951), and Ireland would lock horns with the star again in the suspense thriller I Saw What You Did (1965).
Fay Wray, who had retired from acting to marry screenwriter Robert Riskin, had returned to the screen after his death. When she had announced her plans, Crawford had sent her a note saying "Welcome...we need you." Before long, Crawford was welcoming her to the set of Queen Bee, in which she played a supporting role. In her memoirs, Wray would write admiringly of Crawford's devotion to her fans, while also marveling at her near-compulsive cleanliness.
As Crawford's romantic rival, Wald cast a young protégée of director John Ford's, Betsy Palmer, who would work with Ford that year in The Long Gray Line and Mister Roberts. She would go on to greater fame first as a television star, then as a horror-film icon. In Queen Bee she's most recognizable as one of the first female interviewers on The Today Show and a regular guest on I've Got a Secret. To younger fans, however, Palmer is better known as Mrs. Voorhees, the original slasher in the bloody Friday the Thirteenth film series. They may even see something of that murderous character in Crawford's performance.
Queen Bee drew mixed reviews, with most East Coast critics complaining about its creaky plot while also praising Crawford's commitment to her role. Audiences were less judgmental about the former, though they often broke into applause when the star's malevolent character got her comeuppance. Crawford would tell later biographers that she felt much the same way. The film's title would haunt her, as less complimentary members of the press frequently used it to describe her. Daughter Christina, noted for her tell-all memoir Mommy, Dearest, would also state that the character was not that different from her mother's behavior at home.
Director: Ranald MacDougall
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
Based on the novel The Queen Bee by Edna L. Lee
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Art Direction: Ross Bellah
Music: George Duning
Cast: Joan Crawford (Eva Phillips), Barry Sullivan (John Avery Phillips), Betsy Palmer (Carol Lee Phillips), John Ireland (Judson Prentice), Lucy Marlow (Jennifer Stewart), William Leslie (Ty McKinnon), Fay Wray (Sue McKinnon), Juanita Moore (Maid). BW-95m.
by Frank Miller
You're like some fancy kind of disease. I had it once -- now I'm immune.- Judson Prentiss
Don't you look sweet, even in those tacky old riding clothes?- Eva Phillips
Queen Bee marked the directoral debut of Ranald MacDougall. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Joan Crawford purchased the rights to Edna Lee novel and engaged MacDougall as writer-director before presenting the package to producer Jerry Wald. MacDougall and Wald had worked with Crawford on Warner Bros.' 1945 production Mildred Pierce, for which Crawford won her only Academy Award (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Queen Bee received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) and Best Costume Design (Black-and-White).
Released in United States Fall November 1955
Released in United States Fall November 1955