Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck

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East Side, West Side Review


Weak
In the early 1930s, director Mervyn Leroy was one of the men responsible for the gritty, careening Warner Brothers house style, but by 1949, Leroy was one of main hack directors for MGM and a prime example of the staid MGM routine is on display in Leroy's prosaic staging of the cad-for-all-seasons East Side, West Side.

Barbara Stanwyck is mistreated high society wife Jessie Bourne, married to Brandon (James Mason), a well-heeled corporate lawyer who is also a regular heel, cheating on Jessie every chance he gets. As Brandon explains his philosophy to a hopeful conquest, "Just because a man has one perfect rose in his garden at home, it doesn't mean that he can't appreciate the flowers of the field." Even so, Brandon tries to "think with his head" but then Ava Gardner breezes in and all bets are off.

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Baby Face Review


Very Good
Recent DVD releases have given movie buffs the wonderful opportunity to see what Hollywood was up to in the short period between the advent of the talkies and the imposition of the Hays Code, which banned most of the sex, violence, and fun in movies for three decades. The "pre-Code" movies made between about 1930 and 1934 can be quite shocking... and delightful.

Case in point: Baby Face, in which our man-eating heroine Lily (the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck), sleeps her way to wealth while leaving an impressive swath of wreckage in her wake. The Turner Classic Movies DVD actually comes with two cuts of the film: naughty and naughtier. Guess which one you should watch?

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The Lady Eve Review


Excellent
It's just not even a fair fight, and fortunately writer/director Preston Sturges knows that. Barbara Stanwyck could have poor little Henry Fonda for breakfast, and in Sturges' blithely astringent comedy The Lady Eve, she does just that. Fonda, as hapless rich kid Charles Pike, puts up some resistance to Stanwyck, international card sharp and grifter extraordinaire Jean Harrington, but it's really no contest -- he knows he's doomed to be won over by her charms, as the audience is, and ultimately everyone is the happier for it.

Sturges wrote for women like few other screenwriters ever have, even in our supposedly more advanced times. His heroines have a welcome tendency towards toughness, clarity of mind, sharpened tongues, devastating wit, and the ability to wear smashing evening wear without looking the least bit fragile. The remarkable Stanwyck is a fantastic creation as Harrington, able to think (and speak) circles around everybody in any given room, but still retaining the heart to fall madly for nebbishy Pike.

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Christmas In Connecticut (1945) Review


Very Good
If you're only familiar with the Christmas in Connecticut through the awful Arnold Schwarzenegger-directed remake, you owe it to yourself to check out the original, a funny and witty film featuring Barbara Stanwyck in one of her lightest roles on film.

The story is remarkably complex and underhanded for a) a comedy and b) something dreamed up in 1945. Stanwyck is Elizabeth Lane, a newspaper columnist who writes "Smart Housekeeping" full of recipes, homemaking, and parenting tips. Turns out, alas, she's a total fraud: She can't cook, she doesn't have a famous farm in Connecticut, and she isn't even married.

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Forty Guns Review


Very Good
A Western that's thoroughly urban in its outlook, Sam Fuller's Forty Guns was made at the height of his most fertile filmmaking period in the 1950s - he released China Gate and Run of the Arrow the same year - and represents a studio director working at the peak of his form: fast, vicious, and cutting all necessary corners. The forty guns of the title are the passel of mercenaries backing up Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), a rancher who's the unofficial boss of a whole Arizona county and packs more of a wallop on her own than all her hired guns. At this stage, a few years past her bombshell prime, Stanwyck still cuts a mean, black-clad figure whipping her white horse into the horizon. (No stunt rider for this actress.)

Justice arrives in the laconic form of Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan), the federal marshal who comes to town with his two brothers, Wes (Gene Barry, grizzled) and Chico (Robert Dix, resembling a young Robert Vaughn), ready to clean things up. This interferes with the desire of Jessica's wastrel brother Brockie (John Ericson) to do things like get drunk and terrorize the town with the forty guns, and so the big showdown is set up. Jessica gets stuck right in the middle, torn between wanting to protect little Brockie and falling in love with Griff, a legendary gunslinger who's just about as granite-hewn as she is; an impressive feat.

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The Lady Eve Review


Excellent
Remarkably sophisticated for a film 60 years old, The Lady Eve is another fine flick about life and love courtesy of Preston Sturges, this time with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as unlikely lovers meeting aboard a cruise ship. He's an adventurer back from a year in the Amazon, she's a spunky con artist. Sturges sure knows how to set up the screwball, and his comic timing here is impeccable. The scene with Stanwyck's "father" (a fellow con) in a fully-cheating card game is a highlight.

Sorry, Wrong Number Review


Good
Barbara Stanwyck stars in this classic noir of a bedridden woman with a heart condition who discovers a murder plot during an errant phone call. Imagine her surprise when she turns out to be the potential victim! Rather straigtforward for a "mystery," but notable in that virtually every scene involves a phone call (Sorry, Wrong Number was originally a radio play). A precursor to the far better Rear Window, but noir has seen better days.

Clash By Night Review


Good
Cannery Row in Monterey. Christ, you can smell the fish through your TV.

The setting is always good for a noir, and throwing Barbara Stanwyck in as the lead doesn't hurt. Here Stanwyck plays a woman who didn't quite make it in the big city, so she's moved back home to figure out what to do next.

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The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers Review


Very Good
Whisper her name!

Thus read the ads for the original 1946 release of the classic, under-appreciated film noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and although the tagline refers to the character, the name that the title brings to mind is that of star Barbara Stanwyck. As Martha, Stanwyck plays a woman with a secret, living in the kind of anywhere-in-America town that film noir sketched so indelibly on the big screen, a town where everything would seem peaceful to a stranger, but the locals know that intrigue simmers just out of sight. If you have to talk about Martha - a woman who's not only notorious but powerful as well - it probably is best to lower your voice. In a town this size, word gets around.

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Titanic (1953) Review


Good
Modern moviegoers rarely recall that there are a good half-dozen movies based on the Titanic disaster. Like Cameron's 1997 version, most are also called Titanic.

For those of you interested in a historical retelling of the Titanic disaster won't find it here; like Cameron, director Jean Negulesco puts a family drama on the boat. It may as well take place in a flat in London: Woman (Barbara Stanwyck) is taking the kids to America in order to escape deadbeat dad (Clifton Webb). Only dad shows up unexpectedly on the boat and causes all sorts of havoc with his overbearing ways, gambling, and general obnoxiousness.

Continue reading: Titanic (1953) Review

Barbara Stanwyck

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Barbara Stanwyck Movies

Baby Face Movie Review

Baby Face Movie Review

Recent DVD releases have given movie buffs the wonderful opportunity to see what Hollywood was...

Forty Guns Movie Review

Forty Guns Movie Review

A Western that's thoroughly urban in its outlook, Sam Fuller's Forty Guns was made at...

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