This week's (Jan. 3) New Yorker has a lengthy article about Joan. This is a pretty big deal!
Here's one quote: "...if Joan Crawford is not very likable she would, in a just world, be widely honored for a series of fiercely effective performances and for her emblematic quality as a twentieth-century woman."
I disagree with Denby's "not very likable" assertion. From her initial 1925 film appearance up until 1939's deliberately UNlikable Crystal Allen in "The Women," Joan was the epitome of the "likable" onscreen. In the '40s and '50s, once she'd grown up, she played "realistic" -- maybe vulnerable, maybe hard. "Unlikable" only because real people are often unlikable.
Though, perhaps that's nitpicking, given Denby's "fiercely effective performances" and "emblematic quality as a twentieth-century woman." I've often written that the story of Joan's ascension is the story of The American Dream, with all of its grandeur AND flaws. Denby's "fiercely effective" and "emblematic quality" are right on.