Barbara Stanwyck

What’s on TCM: July 2014

Maureen O'HaraHappy July, everyone!  With summer now in full swing, TCM has plenty of great movies to watch on hot summer nights.  Maureen O’Hara is July’s Star of the Month and will be featured every Tuesday night this month.  TCM will also be commemorating the hundredth anniversary of World War I every Friday by showing some of the best WWI movies, including The Big ParadeSergeant YorkGrand Illusion, and All Quiet on the Western Front, just to name a few.

The night I am most looking forward to this month is July 10th.  TCM will be featuring six classic documentaries such as Salesman, Harlan County USA, and Sans Soleil. I really like documentaries and that night’s movies is a nice mix of things I’m looking forward to re-watching and ones I’ve been wanting to see.

Now, on to the rest of the schedule…

(more…)

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940

Barbara Stanwyck Steel True Victoria WilsonIf you’ve ever had any questions about the life of Barbara Stanwyck, Victoria Wilson’s “A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940″ is bound to have the answers.

At over 800 pages long, “Steel True” is the very definition of an extensive biography.  (Keep in mind this book only covers Barbara’s life up until 1940.  The other fifty years will be covered in future volumes.)  In fact, this may very well be the most extensive movie star biography I will ever read.  In “Steel True,” Wilson doesn’t simply offer a look at Barbara Stanwyck’s life, she immerses the reader in Stanwyck’s world.  Barring any advances in the field of time travel, “Steel True” is the closest thing to actually being there with her.   You don’t just learn what Stanwyck was doing, you learn about her friends, family, and co-workers, what they were doing,  and what was happening in the world at the time.

Whether or not I would recommend “Steel True” solely depends on what type of biography you’re looking for.  Even though I really appreciated Wilson’s in-depth approach, I can see how it might not be what other people are looking for.  Perhaps you’ve just seen a Barbara Stanwyck movie for the first time and you want to learn a bit more about her.  In that case, “Steel True” may be a bit overwhelming.  However, if you’re already a big Barbara Stanwyck fan and want to know about her life in greater detail, this is absolutely the book you want.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher.

Ten Cents a Dance (1931)

Ten Cents a Dance 1931Barbara O’Neill (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the best dancers in the dime dance joint she works in.  But lately, her personal life has been distracting her at work.  She’s fallen in love with her friend Eddie Miller (Monroe Owsley), but she’s also being pursued by the wealthy Bradley Carlton (Ricardo Cortez).  Barbara does her best to keep from getting too close to Bradley, but she convinces him to give Eddie a job working at his company.  She keeps Eddie in the dark about what her real job is, but eventually he finds out and when he does, he declares that he wants to marry her and wants her to quit her job.

Eddie and Barbara are married and money is tight for them.  Things get even worse when Eddie runs into some old friends and goes to play cards with them.  He winds up losing $240 and tries to keep it a secret from Barbara.  Barbara secretly goes back to working at the dime dance joint and although Eddie often claims to be working, he’s actually off cavorting with his old friends and getting even deeper into debt.  When their lights are turned off because they can’t pay the bill, Eddie resorts to stealing $5,000 from Bradley.

Eddie admits what he’s done to Barbara and plans to leave town, but she gets him to stay by going to Bradley and borrowing the $5,000 from him, even though he was the one who was robbed in the first place.  But when Eddie finds out where she got the money, he gets extremely jealous and Barbara walks out on him and heads right into the arms of Bradley.

Ten Cents a Dance is far from being one of Barbara Stanwyck’s better pre-codes.  Even though 1931 was still very early in Stanwyck’s film career, she was already capable of giving some great performances.  After all, 1931 was the same year she made Illicit, Night Nurse, and The Miracle Woman.  But what movies like The Miracle Woman and Illicit have that Ten Cents a Dance lacks is interesting material.  Those were roles that Stanwyck could really sink her teeth into and there just isn’t a whole lot of meat to Ten Cents a Dance.  It’s not a terrible movie, just underwhelming compared to some of Stanwyck’s other work from the same year.

The Miracle Woman (1931)

The Miracle Woman 1931Florence Fallon’s (Barbara Stanwyck) father dedicated his life to being a minister.  After spending twenty years giving his all to his congregation, he is forced out by his church and it’s too much for him to bear.  He dies the morning he was to give his final sermon, leaving Florence heartbroken and furious at the congregation for the way they treated him.  When she gets up to deliver what would have been his final sermon, she tells the congregation exactly what she thinks of them.  The congregation does not appreciate Florence’s brutal honesty and leaves, but she catches the attention of Hornsby (Sam Hardy), a promoter who wants to turn her into a popular, albeit phony, evangelist.

Florence goes along with his plan and makes it big. When John Carson (David Manners), a former aviator who has gone blind, hears one of her sermons over the radio, it changes his life.  He goes to see one of her shows and waits to meet her afterwards.  After they meet, Florence goes back to John’s apartment and they have a wonderful evening together. When Florence realizes how genuinely touched he was by her sermon, she feels extremely guilty about the shady nature of her business and wants to get out of it. But Hornsby has been harboring secret feelings about her and refuses to let her go.  Florence continues to see John and falls madly in love with him, but Hornsby blackmails her into going on a romantic trip to Monte Carlo.  As she says goodbye to John, she admits to being a phony, but even that isn’t enough to make him stop loving her.

Just before Florence is to go on stage for her last show before her trip, John comes backstage and tries to convince her that he has been miraculously cured.  He isn’t very convincing, but the effort inspires Florence to go out and tell her followers the truth.  Hornsby tries to stop her by turning off the lights, which accidentally causes a fire to break out.  Every0ne escapes and John rescues Florence.  After that incident, Florence leaves everything behind to join the Salvation Army.  One day, she gets a telegram from John letting her know that he may be able to get his vision back and still wants to marry her.

I’ve seen most of the movies Barbara Stanwyck made in the first few years of her career and The Miracle Woman ranks as one of my favorites from that era.  Any movie that opens with Barbara Stanwyck telling off a whole crowd of people is my kind of movie.  Her performance is wonderful throughout the movie, but the way she mixes vulnerability, sadness, and anger in that first scene is incredible and a powerful way to start the movie off.  It’s one of my favorite scenes Stanwyck has ever done.

Another thing I adored about The Miracle Woman was Frank Capra’s direction.  When John comes to see Florence’s show for the first time, she delivers her sermon standing in a cage with lions.  (Yes, The Miracle Woman opens with Stanwyck telling people off, then later she does a scene in a cage with lions. How awesome is that?)  The way Capra filmed this scene really stayed with me after the movie was over.  Florence wears a robe that isn’t particularly ornate, but it does have a sheer overlay with long sleeves.  As she moves her arms, the light hits those sheer sleeves and it makes her look almost angelic, like there’s an aura surrounding her.  Given the way Florence’s followers view her, I thought that making her look as heavenly — literally– as possible was a such a perfect choice for that scene.

What’s on TCM: December 2012

It’s hard to believe we’re already down to the final month of 2012, but leave it to TCM to end the year on a high note!  There is so much going on that I’m excited for.  First and foremost, we get Barbara Stanwyck as Star of the Month!  Every Wednesday night in December will kick off a 24-hour block of Stanwyck movies, and since I know a lot of my readers are big Stanwyck fans, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of room on your DVRs.  Every Friday night this month will be a salute to director Ernst Lubitsch, so you know every Friday night is going to be good.

Naturally, you can expect plenty of Christmas movies throughout the month.  Also worth noting is Baby Peggy night on December 3rd.  Baby Peggy is one of the last surviving stars from the silent era and was recently the subject of the documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, which will be airing on TCM that night along with some of her movies.

(more…)

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

Nan Taylor (Barbara Stanwyck) is arrested after helping some friends rob a bank, but before her trial, she meets with David Slade (Preston Foster), a former classmate.  David is now a well-known preacher and very vocal about wanting harsher punishments for criminals.  When he sees Nan again, she tells him that she’s innocent and because he’s very attracted to her, he starts declaring her innocent to all of his followers.  But just as she’s about to be granted parole, she confesses the truth to David and she is sent to San Quentin instead.

Nan adjusts pretty well to prison life.  Even though she doesn’t get along with Susie (Dorothy Burgess), who is a big fan of David’s and very jealous of her connection to him, she’s generally well liked by the other prisoners and finds a good friend in Linda (Lillian Roth).  David writes to Nan, begging her to let him come visit her, but she just ignores all his letters.  One day, she gets a visit from her old friend Lefty (Harold Huber), who was part of that bank robbery, and finds out that their other cohorts Don and Dutch are in prison now, too.  Lefty is working on a plan to break them out of there, but needs Nan’s help.  She agrees to help, but she also finally agrees to see David again.

When David comes to see her, she gives David a letter to mail for her, and not thinking anything of it, he does.  The letter was to Lefty, which contained important information about the escape plan, and it ends up in the hands of the police and the whole plan is foiled.  Nan is furious with David because she thinks he deliberately ratted her out and now she has to stay in prison for another year.  When she finally does get out, she’s out for revenge.

Even though Ladies They Talk About is one of the more well-known pre-codes, I really wouldn’t call it a great movie.  The story is rather muddled and sometimes is just plain odd.  There’s one scene where Lillian Roth sings a song to a picture of Joe E. Brown.  When I recorded this, there was a cable interruption in the middle of it, so I missed about two minutes of the movie, but when it came back on, all of a sudden, there was Lillian Roth singing to Joe E. Brown and I was very confused. I have absolutely no idea why that happened so if someone could please fill me in on that, I’d appreciate it.

I’m no expert on prison escapes, but I’m pretty sure the escape attempt seen in this movie is one of the worst ones of all time.  Mostly because so much of it involves making a lot of noise late at night when it’s supposed to be dead quiet.  First, the guy knocks along the wall to find Nan’s cell.  Nobody else heard a lot of strange knocking coming from the wall?  Then, to drown out the noise of him trying to break through the wall, Nan starts playing music.  For some reason, no guard finds it at all suspicious that one of the inmates is suddenly playing loud music late at night. One way Nan helps with the escape plan is to make an imprint of an important key in a bar of soap, traces the outline, and sends it to Lefty.  I don’t know how the lady didn’t notice that one of her keys was suddenly very soapy.  Actually, you know what? I take back what I said about this escape plan being terrible.  It’s not so stupid if the prison staff is this completely oblivious.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

On the night they were to be married, American missionaries Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck) and Dr. Bob Strike (Gavin Gordon) have to put their wedding on hold to rescue some children from an orphanage stuck in the middle of a war zone. In order to get through safely, Dr. Strike asks the feared General Yen (Nils Asther) for a pass to get to the orphanage safely. But General Yen doesn’t think very highly of Dr. Strike and sends him on his way with a worthless piece of paper. Dr. Strike and Megan manage to make their way to the orphanage, but when they get them to the train station, they find themselves caught in the melee and are separated.

Megan is knocked unconscious and when she comes to, finds herself on General Yen’s private train being cared for by Mah-Li (Toshia Mori), Yen’s mistress. She isn’t clear-headed enough to realize who he is, but she figures it out pretty quickly when she wakes up in his summer palace. Yen terrifies her, but he’s quite smitten with her. She wants to leave immediately, but he refuses to let her leave, telling her it isn’t safe. She tries to get letters to Dr. Strike, but Mah-Li never sends them. Yen repeatedly asks her to join him for dinner, but she keeps refusing.

But one night, Megan has a dream about Yen that reveals her true feelings toward him: deep down inside, she’s in love with him. Finally, she stops resisting his advances and joins him for dinner. But while Megan is getting closer to Yen, Mah-Li is betraying his trust. Mah-Li is actually a spy who has been feeding information about Yen to his enemies. When Yen catches her, Megan begs him not to kill her and offers to personally keep an eye on her.  If anything happens again, he could kill Megan. Yen agrees, but when Mah-Li once again gives information to the enemies, information that leads to Yen’s downfall, Yen would rather take his own life than take Megan’s.

I really wanted to be able to like The Bitter Tea of General Yen, but I couldn’t really get into it. I’m just not a fan of movies that involve a woman being held against her will and she eventually falls in love with her captor. They’re just creepy to me. However, The Bitter Tea of General Yen is far less off-putting than, say, The Barbarian. Frank Capra was General Yen‘s director, so it’s safe to expect some very high production values from it. It has some very beautiful cinematography, Stanwyck and Asther had great chemistry together, and I loved Megan’s perfectly surreal dream sequence. Even though it was far from being one of my favorite movies, it was worth seeing at least once anyway.

East Side, West Side (1949)

Brandon (James Mason) and Jessie Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck) are a very happily married couple and part of Manhattan’s elite.  Things weren’t always so happy for them, though.  Brandon has a history of infidelity, but Jessie is the only woman he loves and he’s determined to leave the past behind.  All is going well for them until one night, he visits a nightclub and finds out Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner), his former girlfriend, is back in town.  She wants to pick things up with him again and Brandon fights hard to resist her advances.

While at the club, Brandon ends up getting into a fight with Isabel’s date for the night.  Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse) witnesses the fight and tries to help Brandon since she respects Jessie and doesn’t want to see the incident splashed across the society page.  Sure enough, though, the story makes the paper and some of Jessie’s friends are worried about what Isabel’s return could mean for their marriage.  Jessie goes to meet Rosa to thank her for helping Brandon and gives her a ride to the airport so she can pick up her boyfriend Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin).

It just so happens that Mark is the guest of honor at a party being thrown by some of Jessie and Brandon’s friends.  But just before the party, Isabel convinces Brandon to come see her at her apartment.  Although he has every intention of ending things with her once and for all, he ends up staying so long that Jessie has to go to the party alone.  But while at the party, she gets to know Mark some more and he begins to fall in love with her.

The next day, Jessie gets a call from Isabel and goes to her apartment to confront her.  Isabel swears up and down that she’s the one he really wants, and Jessie begins to worry she might be right, but then she gets a call from Brandon telling her that Isabel has been murdered.  Naturally, Brandon gets brought in for questioning, and even though he’s cleared in the matter, the incident forces Jessie to make up her mind whether or not she wants to stay with Brandon.

I was surprised that East Side, West Side got pretty mediocre reviews on my cable guide and the TCM website, because I really enjoyed it.  If it had been made with a lesser cast, I don’t think I would have been nearly as good, but everybody was completely on point here it absolutely made the movie.  I loved Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin together.  Ava Gardner was one deliciously conniving other woman; she truly revels in making you hate Isabel.  Even Cyd Charisse was good, which might be surprising to a lot of people since this isn’t a musical.

My only complaint was that I was getting bored during the scenes where Van Heflin puts on his detective hat to figure out who killed Isabel.  Those scenes didn’t seem to fit in very well with the rest of the movie.  It was almost like they came out of some other movie.  First it was a drama about marriage, then all of a sudden it turned into a murder mystery, and then it went right back to being a drama again.

But that issue aside, I was very surprised by just how good East Side, West Side was.  Definitely keep an eye out for this one, I don’t think it really gets the credit it deserves.

What’s on TCM: July 2012

Happy July, everyone!  Hard to believe that it’s already almost time for Summer Under the Stars, but TCM has lots of fun stuff going on in July to keep us busy until then.  Leslie Howard is the Star of the Month and his movies will be on every Tuesday night this month.  Every Monday in July will be dedicated to showing 24 hours of adventure movies.  Spike Lee is this month’s guest programmer and has chosen some excellent movies for the night of July 5th.  There are a lot of good things to mention, so let’s get to it:

(more…)

What’s on TCM: May 2012

Happy May, everyone!  It certainly looks like it’s going to be a busy month on TCM.  Joel McCrea is the star of the month, which is something I know a lot of people have been wanting to see for quite some time.  He’ll be featured every Wednesday night this month.  Every Thursday night will be all about movies based on true crime stories.  Plus there’s the annual 48-hour war movie marathon for Memorial day will run from May 27-28.  So without further ado, let’s get to the schedule:

(more…)