Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon

Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood has another blogathon up and running, this time it's about legend Ruby Stevens -- sorry, Barbara Stanwyck. As per usual with these blogathons as of late, I decided to give myself a challenge. For this one in particular, I chose to write about the films that got Stanwyck Academy Awards nominations (though sadly, no wins). Those films (and whom she lost to) are:

(1937, dir. King Vidor)
Lost to Luise Rainer for The Good Earth
(1941, dir. Howard Hawks)
Lost to Joan Fontaine for Suspicion
(1944, dir. Billy Wilder)
Lost to Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight
(1948, dir. Anatole Litvak)
Lost to Jane Wyman for Johnny Belinda

(More after the jump!)


Stanwyck's first Oscar nomination was for a role that was common for actresses then (and now) to do as a means of awards attention: the doting matriarch. Her Stella Dallas has the best intentions for her daughter but not always the best execution of them. (Or in other words, your average mother.)

This was after years of numerous pre-code productions where Stanwyck played the street smart woman with the sharp Brooklyn accent. Though Stanwyck herself was never a mother in real life (at least biologically), she shows a maternal instinct that’s as natural as her acting abilities. (It should come as no surprise that this was one of Stanwyck's favorite films.)



Her second nomination was for more familiar territory to fans of her work. Her Sugarpuss O'Shea is a real firecracker (as the film's title so implies), thanks to Hawks' direction and the script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. (Man, they just don’t write roles like this for actresses anymore, do they?)

1941 turned out to be a good year for both Stanwyck and leading man Gary Cooper. As well as Ball of Fire, Stanwyck was also in The Lady Eve (which some say should have gotten a nomination instead) and Cooper was in Sergeant York (which was also directed by Hawks and got Cooper his first of two Oscars). They were also alongside each other in Meet John Doe, which is decidedly more sentimental. (Hey, it's a Frank Capra film. What else would you expect from him?)



The third nomination was for what many consider the best role of Stanwyck's career. Her Phyllis Dietrichson is the quintessential femme fatale: icy, seductive, and calculating. It set the precedent for what an actress can be capable of. ("Anything you can do, I can do better...")

Double Indemnity at the time was a departure from Stanwyck's romantic comedy roles. She was reluctant to do such a sinister part but Wilder convinced her to take a chance at it. The result was one of the best performances in film noir history.



Stanwyck's final nomination was again for a film noir but this time she's playing the potential victim rather than the femme fatale. Her Leona Stevenson is of a frail disposition, both physically and (more noticeably) mentally. Certainly not the kind of role one would normally expect from Stanwyck.

Sorry, Wrong Number was one of many films to be released in a post-World War II era, a time where human psychology became more of an interest to the masses. (Amusingly, this was released the same year as The Snake Pit, which has Olivia de Havilland as the mentally unhinged leading lady.) Here, Stanwyck delivers a performance that, while not as well-known as many of her other roles, delves into the damaged psyche of the main character. A daring part for anyone to tackle both then and now.


  1. I hadn't realised Stanwyck was involved in so many nominated films. A very interesting posting.


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