Background notesAfter the phenomenal success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Joan Crawford and other 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.
PlotLucy Harbin has spent 20-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 (Diane Baker), an artist and sculptress, 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 the hired man Leo becoming a victim as well as Lucy's doctor, who is found in a freezer. 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 axe-murderer is Carol, who has gone to great lengths to portray her mother as a still-active murderer by duplicating her mother's appearance when she kills (even to copying her mother's head and face with a mask she fashioned herself). As the film ends, Lucy calmly accepts her responsibility for her daughter's illness and hatred and announces that she is going to Carol in the hospital where she is now confined.
- Joan Crawford as Lucy
- Diane Baker as Carol
- Leif Erickson as Bill Cutler
- George Kennedy as Leo
- Lee Majors as Lucy's Husband, Frank
- Howard St. John as Raymond Fields
- Edith Atwater as Mrs. Fields
- John Anthony Hayes as Michael Fields
- Rochelle Hudson as Emily Cutler
Production notesCrawford 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 film The 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.
ReceptionVariety 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.