Possessed (1931)

Possessed 1931 Joan Crawford Clark GableMarian Martin (Joan Crawford) is an unrepentant gold digger.  She’s a factory worker from Erie, Pennsylvania, but she would love to be a high society dame.  Her boyfriend Al Manning (Wallace Ford) is a fellow working class guy and is content to stay that way. But Marian knows her only real chance at being a wealthy woman is to marry for money.  On her way home from work one day, she meets the wealthy Wally Stuart (Richard Gallagher) when he passes by on a train.  Wally is drunk at the time and tells Marian to look him up if she’s ever in New York.  When Al finds out that Marian was spending time with another man, he’s livid and his reaction is enough to drive Marian straight to New York.

Marian arrives in New York and goes straight to Wally’s apartment, but he doesn’t remember her.  However, he does give her some advice on meeting rich men.  And as luck would have it, she catches the eye of Wally’s friend Mark Whitney (Clark Gable).  Mark is divorced and doesn’t want to re-marry because he’s afraid of being hurt again.  However, he does turn Marian into a kept woman and they carry on an affair for three years.  He even has her pose as Mrs. Moreland, a rich divorcee, to make their arrangement appear more respectable.

While Marian has been in New York with Mark, Al has been back in Erie starting his own concrete company.  His business is doing well and when he comes to New York on business, he visits Marian and proposes to her, not knowing about her relationship with Mark.  She turns him down, but when he finds out she knows Mark Whitney, he uses her as a connection to get a meeting with Mark.  However, Mark’s attitude toward marriage has changed now that he’s considering running for governor, despite the damage it could do to his campaign.  Not wanting to hurt Mark’s campaign, Marian breaks it off with him to marry Al instead.  But when Al finds out about her affair with Mark, he wants nothing to do with her unless she uses her influence with Mark to help him seal that business deal.  Marian leaves Al, but will Mark take her back?

Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight movies together and Possessed is one of the best of the bunch.  Not only is their chemistry completely on point, Possessed is a perfect example of why I’m so fond of many movies from the pre-code era.  It’s full of the boundary-pushing material that makes the era so interesting to many people.  The story is very efficiently told;  Possessed clocks in at a whopping 76 minutes and not a minute of it is wasted.  Plain and simple, it’s a very sharp little movie.


  1. The only point I disagree with is that Marian started out as a gold digger, she wanted a better life than the one she had. When she goes to Wally in New York, she is an innocent trying to find a way to accomplish this, if she had been a “gold digger” in the beginning we would not root for her.

    1. I personally consider anyone who sets out to marry for money a gold digger. But she’s not heartless. Wally’s money may have drawn her to him in the first place, but she stayed with him because she really did love him and that helped make her likeable.

      However, I don’t think all gold diggers are unsympathetic characters by default. When it comes to movies like Possessed and Depression-era movies in general, I tend to see it as more of a survival technique. I sympathized with Marian because she really did want a better life for herself. But it’s not like she had the resources to go to college, get a degree, start her own business, and work her way up in the world that way. She realized that she probably would never be anything more than a factory worker if she stayed in Erie, so she set out to find that better life using what resources she could use and I can’t fault her for that.

  2. Wally only gave advice, he never gave her any money, and once again in the beginning of the movie there was never any evidence that that she was a gold digger

      1. I love your commentaries and almost always agree 100 percent,I did not mean to be a pain about the term gold digger it is just I did not see her that way. I love you and hope we remain sisters of different mothers!!

        1. It’s no problem at all! Perhaps I was a little harsh with my choice of wording. But I always welcome discourse, as long as it’s respectful, which you absolutely are.

  3. Crawford’s Possessed and Shearer’s A Free Soul were exactly the kind of roles both actresses coveted and competed for, but made steam come out of the ears of Joseph L. Breen, and precisely the type he most wanted to put a stop to once in charge of Hollywood’s censorship office in mid-1934.

    Nothing got the right-wingers of the time more worked up than women characters like Marian Martin and Jan Ashe, fully self-possessed and in charge of their sexuality and living self-directed lives. In their time, Shearer, Garbo, Crawford and Harlow all got a share, most of them well worth treasuring, before the axe came down.

    The long-term cost of this narrow-mindedness is superbly laid out in Mick LaSalle’s “Complicated Women” from 2000, and is highly recommended reading.

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