Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers in Baby Face
For your next holiday viewing party, a list of ten great films that Barbara Stanwyck shone in…
The qualities that made her great, that made her, as the film critic Nell Minow says, the most eternally modern of Golden Age actresses, were evident from the beginning. Stanwyck believed in being as natural on screen as the Hollywood glamour machine allowed, and it extended to her appearance: as Wilson makes clear, the actress was not vain. She described herself as just “average nice-looking”—no Greta Garbo or Carole Lombard or Hedy Lamar—and felt it was “a good thing” that she could “crack through with honesty.” She excelled at playing women with their own best interests in mind, tough women with hard shells, but she was also gifted at playing on the edge, where anger and defensiveness part to reveal a glinting vulnerability.
Stanwyck was one of Hollywood’s hard-working pros—a trouper who always knew her own lines, and often everybody else’s as well, was always on time, who learned the names of all the crew. She probably wouldn’t have appreciated a lot of psychologizing about her work, but it seems clear that she drew on her own rough upbringing to play many of her finest roles. Born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn in 1907, she was four when her pregnant mother was killed by a drunk who pushed her off a streetcar. Her bricklayer father soon ran off to Panama, abandoning the family. Young Ruby was raised by a shifting cast of relatives, and supported herself from the age of fourteen as a switchboard operator, a pattern cutter, and a chorus girl. “I’ve known women who plodded through life,” Wilson quotes her saying, “but the women I knew did their plodding on the pavement, not the soil. I know very little about the simple life. I’m a product of crowded places and jammed-up emotions, where right and wrong weren’t always clearly defined and life wasn’t always sweet, but it was life.” That life, with all its ambiguity, is what you always see in a Stanwyck performance, flickering across her uncommonly intelligent face like light dancing on water.
“Steel-True” has inspired several Stanwyck retrospectives, including one at Film Forum, in New York, playing through December 31st. It inspired me to make a list of my favorite Stanwyck performances, all of them available on DVD. Here they are, in chronological order:
(click here to continue reading Barbara Stanwyck’s Best : The New Yorker.)
Click through the link to read thumbnails about each of the ten.
and have yet to see: The Miracle Women; Ladies They Talk About; and All I Desire.
Of the films I’ve seen, Double Indemnity is my favorite, I’ve seen it multiple times, but all are worth watching methinks. The links go to Netflix, if available. I was unable to find There’s Always Tomorrow, except at Amazon as part of a collection including All I Desire, and contrary to Ms. Talbot’s assertion that all of these are available on DVD, I could not find several films. Perhaps there are other sources.
Baby Face – Directed by Alfred E. Green