Working Girls: Gender Play as Survival in ‘Crimes of Passion’ [FINAL GIRL FASHION]

There’s nothing more seductive than feeling good in your own skin. That is, unless you get to step into someone else’s for a while. At the very least, that’s the main thesis of Ken Russell’s horny horror movie Crimes of Passion, a film that has a, well, firm grasp on exactly how transformative clothing, or a lack thereof, can have on one’s psyche.

The lead of Crimes of Passion is a woman who goes by two names. By day, she’s Joanna Crane, an androgynously dressed office worker who lives for a good pantsuit and tie. By night, she’s China Blue, a wig-wearing sex worker with a closet full of costumes for transforming her into the woman of her latest client’s wet dreams.


While China Blue can be many things—ranging from a beauty queen to a nun to an S&M goddess—Joanna Crane appears to be just one. She is, in her dress and her attitude, the very model of the ‘80s working woman we’d see further embodied in other films of the era like Working Girl and Baby Boom.

Men who work with Joanna call her difficult, and unwilling to interact with them, as she often keeps to herself or other women in the office. She is closed off mind and body, every inch of her torso covered in professionally appropriate attire that confirms that she indeed does wear the pants in whatever space she’s in.

While she barely wears pants as China Blue, Joanna clearly takes power from the reverse gender play that comes with this other role she has carved out for herself. Concealing her dirty blonde bob with a platinum wig and smearing her eyes with blue eyeshadow begins her transformation from “frigid bitch” to fearless freak, allowing her to step away from her daytime persona and into the night. In the office, she walks with purpose, but on the streets she strolls playfully, daring anyone and everyone to gawk at her.

Crimes of Passion

If Joanna acted this way at work, she’d be judged in a whole other way, not taken seriously despite her obvious ambition (see also: Dolly Parton as Doralee in 9 to 5). But at this other job, it’s a power move, a neon sign telling people that she is, well, open for business.

Crimes of Passion doesn’t explicitly tell us this while it’s busy wasting time with an unhappy husband who becomes obsessed with China (and later Joanna). But it’s safe to say that Joanna, as smart and capable as she appears, knows exactly what she’s doing with her various acts of gender play. After all, she works at a fashion design house, spending her daytime hours dreaming up things for others to wear.

Whether dressed as Joanna or as China, this woman is a master manipulator, imagining what might fulfill her client’s masturbatory fantasies before they can conceive of them. She’s literally got panties in every color and a killer sense of style ready to put into action.


Joanna’s whip smart business savvy is what attracts two specific men: former quarterback Bobby (John Laughlin, the poor man’s Michael Schoeffling) and Reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins). Yes, China has many men on her recurring roster, but these two make a special mark as they see past her flirtatious facade in different ways. Bobby wants to get to know Joanna, while the reverend thinks he already does, his radar for fellow freaks going into overdrive whenever he sees her out on the town.

Like Joanna, Reverend Peter Shayne has many sides. One minute he’s in full salvation mode, claiming he can “save your soul, whore!” The next minute he’s pulling out a bag full of sex toys that could literally kill you. In fact, he could be classified as a serial killer, seeing as he murders several other sex workers on screen before coming for the object of his obsessions.

Crimes of Passion

While Peter clearly has not found a way to safely channel his innermost desires, Joanna has, a fact that enrages the so-called man of god. As the film’s finale makes clear, he wants nothing more than to be as free as Joanna, wearing her signature China Blue dress and wig after begging her to kill him with his “Superman” vibrator.

In a way, it’s a happy ending for Peter, as he dies as he might have liked to live. But you have to wonder how many lives might have been saved if Peter had the courage to live his truth, even part-time.

We don’t technically see what happens to Joanna after her final run-in with Peter as the film ends with Bobby in group therapy, where he reveals he’s now in a relationship with her. Given this information and an earlier scene where Joanna as China refuses to have sex with a dying man, we can only assume that her days of sex work are over. I just hope she brought her closet full of goodies home for her and Bobby (and whomever else) to play with.

Crimes of Passion is a challenging film in many ways, controversial in its time for its unflinching sexuality which almost got it an X rating. But part of what likely upset audiences in 1984 and may still irk people in 2023 is that it gets to the heart of an eternal truth: censorship—whether internal or external—is a stone cold killer. Wearing and doing what you want is the only way to survive.



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