Barbara Stanwyck movies. There have probably been few transformations more striking than that of Ruby Stevens of Brooklyn into Barbara Stanwyck of Hollywood — the highest-paid woman in the United States in 1944. Stanwyck, whose film career lasted from the dawn of the sound era to the mid-1960s, is Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” subject on Tuesday, August 19. [Barbara Stanwyck movie schedule.]
Personally, I find Barbara Stanwyck one of the greatest film actresses ever; a performer all but incapable of a phony moment on screen. Strangely, considering the kinds of roles she played — sometimes sexy, sometimes malevolent, sometimes androgynous, sometimes all three (and more) — I’ve always found it curious that actresses like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Katharine Hepburn could maintain large followings today while Barbara Stanwyck remains well-known chiefly among Old Hollywood lovers.
Now, which of TCM’s Barbara Stanwyck films would I recommend? Well, the answer is: all of them. If Barbara Stanwyck is in it, then it’s worth watching no matter the plot, the direction, or the other actors.
Recommended Barbara Stanwyck movies
But which Barbara Stanwyck movies would I particularly recommend?
For starters, The Locked Door, a 1929 super-rarity that is a TCM (and probably a television) premiere. Don’t expect anything great, even though the film — a remake of the Norma Talmadge silent The Sign on the Door — was directed by the capable George Fitzmaurice (The Barker, Mata Hari). After all, this is 1929, when talkies mostly creaked and screeched.
Even so, The Locked Door offers a chance to catch a very early Stanwyck, in addition to silent film stars Rod La Rocque (The Ten Commandments, Forbidden Paradise) and Betty Bronson (Peter Pan, A Kiss for Cinderella) in one of their few important talking pictures. William ’Stage’ Boyd — not to be confused with William Boyd of the Hopalong Cassidy flicks — is also in the film. (The ’Stage’ Boyd had a bad reputation, which sometimes got the Hopalong Boyd in trouble.)
Ten Cents a Dance (1931) should be seen because it’s also quite hard to find. It’s hardly a good film — a potboiler that isn’t nearly as saucy as one would have expected from a pre-Code movie — but both Barbara Stanwyck and her legs do look great. The handsome, suave Ricardo Cortez co-stars; the year’s Best Actor Oscar winner, Lionel Barrymore (for his dreadful performance in A Free Soul), was Ten Cents a Dance’s uninspired director.
Barbara Stanwyck sensational in ’scandalous’ Baby Face
The best pre-Coder to be shown on TCM is Alfred E. Green’s Baby Face (1933), which was considered so immoral, so disgusting, so vile, so evil, so dirty, so perverse, so depraved that it was temporarily taken out of circulation, recut, and redubbed so it could be released to the general God-fearing public without leading husbands to cheat on their mistresses, mothers to drown their children in their own milk, or dogs to bite their owners. Baby Face was restored to its glorious sinfulness a few years ago.
In the film, Barbara Stanwyck stars as a social climber who, quite adroitly, uses her legs — and, it is implied, other body parts — to climb the corporate ladder. Baby Face is not to be missed despite the presence of the invariably stolid George Brent as Stanwyck’s leading man.
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