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. (See Barbara Stanwyck movie schedule further below.)
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.
Barbara Stanwyck movies: Tuesday, Aug. 19, TCM line-up. (Photo: Ten Cents a Dance Barbara Stanwyck, right in the center.)
3:00 AM Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire (1991). Barbara Stanwyck's multi-faceted career reveals uncanny reflections of her off-screen life. Cast: Sally Field, Gary Cooper. Director: Richard Schickel. Color. 46 min.
4:00 AM Illicit (1931). Young free-thinkers turn conventionally jealous when they marry. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, James Rennie, Ricardo Cortez, Natalie Moorhead, Charles Butterworth, Joan Blondell. Director: Archie Mayo. Black and white. 80 min.
5:30 AM Ten Cents A Dance (1931). A taxi dancer with a jealous husband finds herself falling for a wealthy client. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Ricardo Cortez, Monroe Owsley. Director: Lionel Barrymore. Black and white. 77 min.
7:00 AM Night Nurse (1931). A nurse discovers that the children she's caring for are murder targets. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Clark Gable, Joan Blondell, Blanche Friderici, Charles Winninger, Vera Lewis. Director: William A. Wellman. Black and white. 72 min.
9:45 AM Shopworn (1932). A waitress falls for a wealthy young man but has to fight his mother to find happiness. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Regis Toomey, ZaSu Pits, Lucien Littlefield, Clara Blandick, Robert Alden, Oscar Apfel. Director: Nick Grinde. Black and white. 66 min.
11:00 AM Ever in My Heart (1933). During World War I, a woman suspects her husband of being a German spy. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Otto Kruger, Ralph Bellamy. Director: Archie Mayo. Black and white. 69 min.
12:15 PM Baby Face (1933). A beautiful schemer sleeps her way to the top of a banking empire. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, John Wayne. Director: Alfred E. Green. Black and white. 76 min.
1:45 PM The Bride Walks Out (1936). A model weds a struggling engineer then has her own struggles with domesticity. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Gene Raymond, Robert Young. Director: Leigh Jason. Black and white. 81 min.
3:15 PM You Belong to Me (1941). A playboy marries a woman doctor then grows jealous of her male patients. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Edgar Buchanan, Roger Clark, Ruth Donnelly. Director: Wesley Ruggles. Color. 95 min.
5:00 PM The Locked Door (1929). A woman once kidnapped by a wealthy womanizer tries to save her sister from him. Cast: Rod La Rocque, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Bronson, William 'Stage' Boyd. Director: George Fitzmaurice. Black and white. 74 min.
6:30 PM The File on Thelma Jordon (1950). A woman seduces a District Attorney and pulls him into a web of theft and murder. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly, Joan Tetzel. Director: Robert Siodmak. Black and white. 100 min.
8:15 PM Witness to Murder (1954). A woman fights to convince the police that she witnessed a murder. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders, Gary Merrill. Director: Roy Rowland. Black and white. 82 min.
9:45 PM Crime of Passion (1957). An executive's wife barters sex for her husband's business success. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr. Director: Gerd Oswald. Black and white. 86 mins. Letterbox Format
11:15 PM Clash By Night (1952). An embittered woman seeks escape in marriage, only to fall for her husband's best friend. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Andes. Director: Fritz Lang. Black and white. 105 min.
Schedule (Pacific Time) and synopses from the TCM website: