Category Archives: Barbara Stanwyck

Remember the Night (1940)

 “My life is just one long round of whoopee.”

remember the nightIn Remember the Night, shoplifter Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is caught trying to pawn a diamond bracelet she stole from a jeweler. She gets her day in court defended by an overly dramatic lawyer who claims she was hypnotized. Prosecuting attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) requests a delay in the trial until after Christmas–he knows full well that he stands a better chance of gaining a conviction once the holidays are over. Consequently, Lee is supposed to spend Christmas in jail. Sargent begins to feel sorry for her and arranges for bail. Lee ends up on at Sargent’s home on Christmas Eve, and after discovering they’re both from Indiana, he agrees to drive her home for the holidays.

Lee gets a cold response at her family’s old homestead, so Sargent takes her home to his family farm for Christmas. Sargent’s home is idyllic–complete with an adoring mother (Beulah Bondi), loving Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and Willie (Sterling Holloway), the harmless simpleton of a handyman.

When the film begins, Lee is as tough as nails, but once in the Sargent home, she begins to melt. The script (by Preston Sturges) is extremely well done, and while this film could have been incredibly corny, it isn’t. Once out of their environment and their roles, both Sargent and Lee take a good hard look at each other, and gain insight into their vastly different backgrounds. As a child, he was wanted and loved, and she was despised and rejected. While on the farm, her past becomes trivial. The film, fortunately, doesn’t try to turn her ‘conversion’ and his acceptance into a fairy-tale, but continues to confront the problems inherent in their relationship. Remember the Night is a great film for the Christmas season as it explores that bittersweet theme of going home for the holidays.

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Ladies They Talk About (1933)

 “Don’t worry about my conscience, sweetheart.”

ladies they talk aboutThe pre-Hays Code film Ladies They Talk About stars Barbara Stanwyck as Nan Taylor–a gun moll who helps knock off a bank. When the robbery goes sour, Nan is caught. Anti-crime crusader, Dave Slade (Preston Foster) rages against Nan from his pulpit, but when he meets her in person, he recognizes her as a childhood friend. She was the daughter of the town deacon, and he was the son of the town drunk. A romance is kindled, and Slade is prepared to pull strings to save Nan, but when she comes clean about the robbery, Slade is horrified. Nan goes off to jail, but their paths are destined to cross again.

This is a splendid role for Stanwyck. She switches her behaviour back and forth–depending on the audience she’s playing to. In one scene, she’s ushered in the district attorney’s office, where she coyly displays her legs while playing the innocent victim of circumstance. When the district attorney tells her she’s “wasting that panorama” Nan immediately drops the coy act and slides back into her tough gang girl demeanor.

A great deal of the film is spent inside San Quentin. While the men’s prison is shown as militaristic, the women’s prison is depicted as a social club with cliques. There are all types in here–including one prisoner who’s besotted with Slade, and also the motherly Aunt Maggie who insists her only crime was she ran a beauty salon. There’s even a pet Cockatoo brought in to make the female prisoners behave, and some scenes focus on the female prisoners adjusting their undies. Class politics exist within the jail–an upper-class woman totes her Pekingese around while expecting to get her laundry done free by the ‘maid’ Mustard. Nan soon finds her footing in jail and declares, “I never let anything lick me yet, and I never will.” Unfortunately, the lead male role just can’t get the backbone to hold his own against Stanwyck, but it matters little since this is her film anyway. Directed by Howard Bretherton and William Keighley, Ladies They Talk About is a delightful film for Stanwyck fans.

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The Bride Walks Out (1936)

 “You can’t tear up my marriage license-that’s adultery.”

the bride walks outThe Bride Walks Out is a delightful comedy film that explores the financial struggles of a young married couple. When the film begins, Carolyn (Barbara Stanwyck) is a floor model earning $50 a week. Martin (Gene Raymond), an engineer, makes $25 a week, but after getting a new job, his pay increases to $35 a week. He decides that on his new salary, they can afford to get married. He insists, however, that Carolyn should give up her job. After outlining a budget, he thinks they will have 50 cents left after paying all the bills. Martin’s insistence that Carolyn give up her job almost ends the relationship, but in spite of Carolyn’s misgivings, she agrees, and then immediately regrets it.

Carolyn wants a proper (expensive) wedding and an extended honeymoon, but all they can manage is a hasty few minutes at the courthouse. This immediately causes trouble between the newlyweds, and after an argument, Martin ends in front of a judge on a variety of charges. The marriage begins problematically, and the newlyweds are soon consumed with debt. Martin fills their home with furniture, and Carolyn launches out on shopping expeditions. Soon, she’s hiding bills demanding payment and letters threatening repossession.

Directed by Leigh Jason, The Bride Walks Out is representative of those zippy comedies the 30s is so famous for. Witty dialogue and a fast moving plot never allow this film to fall into sentimentality while splendid supporting roles add to the fun. There’s the inebriated millionaire playboy Hugh Mackenzie (Robert Young) who meets Carolyn and Martin in the courthouse and then follows them back home. But some of the funniest scenes involve Martin’s workmate–the cynical Paul Dodson (Ned Sparks) and his long-suffering wife Mattie (Helen Broderick). The Dodsons’ marriage is also fraught with financial hardships, but it’s been going on so long, it’s now become a joking matter with an edge of bitter truth. In one scene, Mattie tells Paul, “I haven’t had a fur coat since our police dog was shedding.” Barbara Stanwyck fans–and those who love 30s comedies–should really enjoy this entertaining film.

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Mad Miss Manton (1938)

“Either your education or your spanking has been neglected.”

Melsa Manton (Barbara Stanwyck) is a spoiled wealthy debutante who leads a high society life that includes a gaggle of twittery friends. Melsa is famous for staging pranks, and she’s gained a reputation as a wastrel. After Melsa discovers a dead body in an empty house, she calls the police. When the body disappears, the police chalk up the incident to yet another of her infamous tricks. Since Melsa is a news item all by herself, the newspapers pick up the story stating that Melsa created a hoax to waste valuable police time.

Newspaperman Peter Ames (Henry Fonda) is outraged when he hears that a society woman played a hoax on the police. He writes a disparaging column about Melsa in his newspaper. Melsa immediately threatens a million dollar lawsuit, and with her friends in tow, she sets out to investigate the crime and clear her reputation.

The Mad Miss Manton is a delightful madcap 30s comedy, and it allows Stanwyck a light, comedic role. Melsa and her fur-clad friends are all airheads–some are worse than others. One friend is constantly eating (even at the scene of a break-in) and another friend considers any joint task is a sign of communism. But in spite of their collective dinginess, these women somehow or another manage to solve the crime. This frustrates the dyspeptic Police Lieutenant Mike Brent (Sam Levene), and wins grudging admiration from Peter Ames. Melsa’s tactics aren’t always clean, but they originate in a native consumerism, and Melsa’s knowledge of hair dye, for example, helps track down a suspect. In many ways, the film Legally Blonde could present an updated version of Melsa’s character.

The great actress Hattie McDaniel plays the role of Melsa’s maid, Hilda, and she provides some acidic, disapproving commentary on the silliness of Melsa’s friends. Directed by Leigh Jason, the smooth action never stops, and with a sparkling dialogue, The Mad Miss Manton is a delightful 1930s comedy.

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Illicit (1931)

 “Marriage is disastrous for love.”

The pre-code film Illicit stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck in one of her earliest roles. She’s cast as the freethinking, independent Anne Vincent who’s involved in a relationship with the wealthy Richard Ives (James Rennie), the son of a prominent society family. While Richard wants to get married, Anne refuses–she sees marriage as the killer of romance. But when rumours reach Richard’s father that the young couple are sneaking off for weekends in Connecticut together, he urges them to marry. Both Richard and Anne try to make opposing moral stands on the issue, but Anne eventually submits and becomes Mrs. Ives.

ilicitAnne and Richard return to their Long Island home after an extended honeymoon in Europe, but the trouble really begins when they return to New York and to their old crowd of friends. Both Anne and Richard are tempted to stray by former loves–Margie (Natalie Moorhead) and Price Baines (Ricardo Cortez). While the film contains Anne’s proto-feminist ideas, it also quite clearly contains the message that there are different standards of acceptable behaviour for Richard and that there’s a certain amount of shenanigans that Anne should just ignore.

In this role, Anne’s behaviour is rather mealy-mouthed, so this is not the magnificent Barbara Stanwyck at her best. But in a couple of scenes there are flashes of the emerging Stanwyck temperament, and her presence in this film raises it above the ordinary. Directed by Archie Mayo, Illicit was re-made and retitled as Ex-Lady just a couple of years later, and that version starred Bette Davis.

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Purchase Price (1932)

 “I’ve kept myself fairly respectable through it all.”

the purchase pricePurchase Price is a delightful, fresh and funny film starring a young Barbara Stanwyck as “naughty nightclub” singer Joan Gordon. When the film begins, she’s hoping to leave her singing career behind and marry the son of the wealthy Leslie family, but that romance ends when a private detective reveals Joan’s liaison with racketeer Eddie Fields (Lyle Talbot). Eddie is only too happy to see Joan back in circulation again, but Joan impulsively takes a train to Montreal and works at a nightclub there under the assumed name Francine La Rue. With Eddie on her tracks, Joan decides to switch places with a maid who’s just arranged a mail-order marriage to a wheat farmer. On the way to the farm, Joan sits with other mail-order brides who brag about the various amenities their bridegrooms have, and the expression on Joan’s face is priceless as the other brides brag about plumbing and radios. But at this point, Joan has gone too far to back out, and she arrives in a desolate, dusty little town.

Laconic, sniffing wheat farmer Jim Gilson (George Brent) marries Joan, and they begin their bumpy married life together. There are some great scenes when the neighbours arrive for the traditional, bizarre “shivelry” ceremony–an evening of uninhibited, raucous, drunken rioting. The rest of the film juxtaposes their rocky romance against the financial troubles of the farm.

This is a great role for Stanwyck–her strong character possesses a wonderful sense of wry humour–often directed at her own decisions, and her reactions to the behaviour and bizarre customs of the locals are priceless. When the film begins, she has the world-weary, savvy-edge of the experienced nightclub singer who has heard ever pick-up line in the book. She’s tired of it all, and she wants a change, and that’s exactly what she gets when she decides to be a mail-order bride. There’s a slight issue with believability (Joan’s marriage to a complete stranger)–but the film is so funny, Joan’s decision to launch herself into an unknown fate with a farmer is acceptable. Directed by William Wellman, the film’s conclusion was rather abrupt, but Stanwyck fans will love every minute of this lighthearted, perfectly paced comedy.

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Night Nurse (1931)

“Don’t think you can muzzle me.”

Night Nurse directed by William Wellman, is an extremely entertaining film, and it’s also a marvelous vehicle for the talented Barbara Stanwyck. When the film begins, Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) is trying to get a job as a nurse at a hospital, but she’s hampered by her lack of high school diploma. A kind and widely respected doctor takes up Lora’s cause, and she’s added to the student nursing staff at the hospital. The plot follows Lora’s training, and while some emphasis is placed on Lora and fellow fun-loving student Maloney’s (Joan Blondell) attempts to circumvent curfew, it’s also clear that Lora takes her chosen career very seriously.

night-nurseOne evening, Lora is working in the emergency room, and she meets a bootlegger named Mortie (Ben Lyon). A moment of kindness seals their friendship, and it also raises the film’s major theme–medical ethics. Mortie tells Lora that doctors and nurses cover things up at the hospital, and his comment makes an impact.

Lora’s first assignment following graduation is to care for two little girls in their home. The children are suffering from malnutrition and anemia, yet the family is wealthy. There’s obviously something very peculiar afoot–the children’s mother, Mrs. Ritchey (Charlotte Merriam) is drunk most of the time and hosts wild parties, an acidic housekeeper spies on the nurses, the children complain of hunger, and Nick (Clark Gable), the sinister chauffeur lurks in the background. When the situation at the Ritchey home deteriorates one evening, Lora’s medical ethics are tested, and she must chose between the care of her young patients or take a chance that may wreck her career.

Night Nurse is a powerful pre-code drama. Yes, there are lots of fluffy, enjoyable scenes that involve Stanwyck running around in her undies a great deal (check out the VHS cover), but the core of the film covers some serious material. This is a marvelous role for Stanwyck, and her character has a spine of steel that refuses to bend. There are many great scenes in the film–Nora facing down the drunken Mrs. Ritchey, and Nora arguing with the slimy Dr. Ranger (Ralf Harolde), for example. But the very best scene occurs between Nick and Lora–she confronts him, and he tries to bully her. Lora doesn’t back down–in fact she gets right in his face, and the camera is angled just perfectly to catch the unflinching eye contact between these two characters. If you are a Stanwyck fan, don’t miss this one.

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Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

“He’s sending me a sailor for Christmas.”

Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is a popular columnist for Smart Housekeeping Magazine. Her articles are supposedly written from the Connecticut farm she shares with her husband and her baby. She’s considered a domestic goddess by her millions of fans, and housewives all over America idolize her lifestyle and culinary talents. Her columns describe the wonderful seven-course meals she cooks and serves, her herb garden, and even her spinning wheel. But there’s a big problem–in reality, Elizabeth is single, lives in New York, and can’t even fry an egg.

When Elizabeth’s bombastic publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) insists on inviting himself and war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) home to Elizabeth’s Connecticut farm for Christmas, she schemes to fabricate the life she brags about in her column with the assistance of a faithful friend, Hungarian restaurateur Felix (S.Z. Sakall) and would-be lover, stuffy architect John Sloane (Reginald Gardiner). Unfortunately, Sloane, who’s been waiting in the wings for Elizabeth for years, see this as an opportunity to press his long-rejected marriage proposal, and Elizabeth feels pressure to give in and accept. Elizabeth acts as a hostess for Yardley and Jones at Sloane’s idyllic Connecticut home. Felix has Elizabeth’s best interests at heart, and while he’s supposed to assist in the deception, he’s also devilishly good at stirring trouble, and he’s an excellent foil for Greenstreet’s character.

Smoothly directed by Peter Godfrey, a lively comedy of errors ensues that includes borrowed babies, pancake tossing, and even kidnapping. The humour here is light, good natured and forgiving of all the characters’ flaws, and a great deal of the fun is generated by Elizabeth’s complete lack of domesticity. Barbara Stanwyck is marvelous as always, and it’s wonderful to see her in a comedy role. Christmas in Connecticut finally made it to DVD, and DVD extras include the trailer, and the short Star in the Night.

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