One of the dazzling Bennett sisters, daughters of stage star Richard Bennett, Joan began her career early. And although through the 1930s she was in the shadow of her much more famous sister Constance, Joan made dozens of films.
Unlike the deHavilland sisters (Olivia and Joan Fontaine), there was no feuding in the Bennett family. Sister Barbara didn’t enter the business, but married bandleader Morton Downey (father of the late flame throwing tv talk host, Morton Downey Jr.)
Joan started her career as a blonde, but it wasn’t until the late thirties, and it was in her brunette stage that she scored big in film noirs such as 1944’s The Woman in the Window and 1945’s Scarlet Street, both with Edward G. Robinson.
Then there were pictures directed by the likes of Jean Renoir and Max Ophuls. To cap it all off, Bennett appeared in two big commercial hits for MGM, Vincente Minnelli’s Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend sharing the limelight with Spencer Trace and Elizabeth Taylor.
Joan’s marital life was anything but tranquil. At one point, her then husband, producer Walter Wanger, had the nagging feeling that Bennett was cheating on him with Jennings Lang, then her agent. A a parking lot encounter ended with Wanger shooting Lang in the groin (other accounts are more specific) while he sat in his car.
Wanger spent some time in prison before reuniting with Bennett in 1953, but her career never quite recovered from the incident. (The couple divorced in 1965 after twenty-five years of marriage and three years before his death)
Joan, the younger sister of Constance, was educated in Connecticut and Europe, she eloped with a millionaire at age 16. The union quickly ended, and Hollywood summoned both sisters. Joan’s career as such outlasted Wanger’s death and dominated that of her older sibling.
She appeared regularly on the Sixties tv series Dark Shadows. In 1976 she landed a role in Italian director Dario Agento’s by-now infamous horror title, Suspiria.
One mostly neglected Bennett picture we like a lot is Hollow Triumph a a dark film noir superbly photographed by John Alton about a criminal mastermind (Paul Henreid) who evades police capture by taking on the identity of a psychiatrist (also Henreid) whom he resembles. A key plot point is the facial mark distinguishing the two (the movie was later retitled, The Scar).
There’s a bungled gambling joint robbery, there’s violent retribution, murder, shootouts and late night car chases and – Joan Bennett. In one of her best roles, she portrays the beautiful, efficient but doomed secretary to the psychiatrist who becomes Henreid’s romantic plaything. Her character’s motto: It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t let anyone hurt you. Need we tell you the movie ends unhappily for both?
Joan’s final outing in 1982 was a tv movie ironically titled Divorce Wars: A Love Story. She died at 80 in 1990.