Sunday, February 15, 2009

Miss Stanwyck

Portait of a lady: Barbara Stanwyck discovers herself depicted as an "Angel of Death" in the 1945 noir thriller, The Two Mrs. Carrolls.

Over at Fabulon, Thombeau has reminded us just how brilliant Barbara Stanwyck really was with a clip from The Thorn Birds (1983). Sometimes, we take La Stanwyck for granted around here; she was so darn competent in everything she did -- drama (Stella Dallas, 1937), comedy (Ball of Fire, 1941), even the odd pseudo-musical (Lady of Burlesque, 1943) -- that she sometimes gets less recognition than her showier celluloid sisters (Davis, Crawford, Hepburn, et al.). She also was one of the first major stars to free-lance, never becoming the reigning queen of any one lot, which was a boon to her independence, but perhaps a hindrance when it came to the all-important "image making" that the studios were famed for. Faye-as-Joan may have snarled, "I might as well have M-G-M tattooed on my backside!", but no one can deny the huge effect that the studio system had on Miss Crawford's grooming, promotion, and career.

Barbara Stanwyck made nearly 100 films; and while we can't claim to have seen them all, the fair amount that we have viewed from every period of her career convinces us that she never, ever gave a bad performance. Her tough-talking, surprisingly racy pre-Code turns in
Night Nurse (1931) and Baby Face (1933) are light years away from the silky manipulations of Double Indemnity (1944) or the screwball elegance of Christmas in Connecticut (1946) in terms of characterization, but Stanwyck's talent and authority were just as evident at the very beginning.

Here's a surprise: a sleek, atomic age melodrama,
There's Always Tomorrow (1956), directed by Douglas Sirk, reuniting Stanwyck with her Double Indemnity co-star, Fred MacMurray. We're ashamed to admit that we'd never even known of its existence until now; Stanwyck directed by Sirk! The mind boggles, and we're hunting down the bootleg DVD now. Brava, Miss Stanwyck! You were a true professional, in every sense of the word.


  1. She was also according to the IRS the highest paid woman in America at one point.

  2. With Miss Stanwyck, I had to work backwards. It was as the shotgun-toting matriarch on reruns of "The Big Valley" that she changed by life. Then I went to her earlier work in the cinema. I recall There's Always Tomorrow playing on AMC or TCM quite a few years back. I remember almost nothing about it! They need to dig it up again.

  3. I've seen "There's always tomorrow" at my local retro-house cinema in cambridge. It's more Sirk than Stanwyck.

    I saw it along with the second Stanwyck Sirk collaboration:

    All I Desire
    (1953) dir Douglas Sirk w/Stanwyck, Richad Carlson [79 min]

    Actress Stanwyck deserted her family for a shot at the big time. Returning home ten years later, she must cope with the disapproval of the town and her estranged family. Saddled with a false “happy ending,” Sirk still makes the film his own, as he ruthlessly dissects the morals of the middle class and gets a world-class performance from Stanwyck. – BAM Cinematek

  4. "Oh no, Walter. Not the body on the railroad tracks again. My lips are stuck to my teeth. Oh no Walter!"