Autumn Leaves is a mixture of several other Joan Crawford films: Milly is a typist (Grand Hotel) who marries a man called Burt (Mildred Pierce) in this Robert Aldrich-directed (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) study of mental illness (Possessed) that’s as good dramatically as it is for our SEO.
As in Possessed, this is another surprisingly sensitive portrayal of mental illness for its time (1956). “Mental disorder is just another illness,” says the doctor (Shepperd Strudwick) only to turn round and drag Burt (Cliff Robertson) away for electroshock therapy. But his point is forward-thinking and the film’s sensitivities suggest different shades of mental illness with Milly’s loneliness providing contrast, reflected in Aldrich’s use of light and shadows.
Crawford is at her wide-eyed best in another glowing, anguished turn, lending complexity and credibility to the brooding melodrama. She’s ably supported by Robertson, Lorne Greene and Vera Miles (Psycho and Psycho II), while the titular song (particularly Nat King Cole’s version) becomes a lyrical refrain. Autumn Leaves leaves you marvelling at another of Crawford’s awesome leads.