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SueSueApplegate

December Star of the Month: BARBARA STANWYCK

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> Thanks, L.E. :) I need to take a break from the boards for a bit but couldn't resist responding to your post. Here's my take on these films:

>

> *Sorry, Wrong Number* - I thought the film was 'ok' when I saw it, but watching it again a second time I was much more impressed. Some have thought that Stanwyck's acting was over the top and grating, but I think her behavior is plausible in context to her condition and the circumstances and her character. It is pretty suspenseful even though it's just Stanwyck in a room making phone calls and reacting. I had mentioned somewhere that Robert Mitchum may have been better in the Lancaster role; even though Lancaster's character was supposed to be weak, I think he underplayed it too much. I love the way they filmed the ending - very well done, very creepy.

I think the main reason I couldn't warm to Sorry, Wrong Number is that it's one of the few Stanwyck films I've seen where neither of the two main characters---in fact almost none of the characters, big or small, seemed to have a single redeeming feature. Usually in her "darker" movies there's at least something about either Stanwyck or her male co-lead that's vaguely sympathetic, but in the case of SWN it's hard to think of anything about either her or Lancaster that isn't just plain creepy. You might be able to say that about Double Indemnity, too, but that one had both Edward G. Robinson and a much better plot. I've seen SWN twice now, and I'm not sure it'll necessarily improve the third time around, which is something I'd never say for just about any other Stanwyck film I can think of.

 

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*I think the main reason I couldn't warm to Sorry, Wrong Number is that it's one of the few Stanwyck films I've seen where neither of the two main characters---in fact almost none of the characters, big or small, seemed to have a single redeeming feature. Usually in her "darker" movies there's at least something about either Stanwyck or her male co-lead that's vaguely sympathetic, but in the case of SWN it's hard to think of anything about either her or Lancaster that isn't just plain creepy. You might be able to say that about Double Indemnity, too, but that one had both Edward G. Robinson and a much better plot. I've seen SWN twice now, and I'm not sure it'll necessarily improve the third time around, which is something I'd never say for just about any other Stanwyck film I can think of.*

 

Interesting POV, Andy. I think one reason why I feel that Lancaster doesn't work is that his character just isn't very 'dynamic'. I don't feel that his character is very interesting to watch. I think part of that is the actor's mis-fit in the role but maybe it's the writing moreso. I find Stanwyck's character sympathetic because even though she has her flaws, she is still suffering. How do you think the characters are "creepy"? Interesting. I find no sympathy at all for Phyllis in DI, but yes, it had better drawn characters and a better plot. Speaking of DI, I love the scene where Phyllis and hubby are walking toward the car on their way to the train station, and Phyllis talks "casually" to him and calls him "honey", all with her devious plans in mind, lol.

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I can find sympathy for both characters in SWN. Both trapped in a marriage at cross purposes, not knowing how the other really feels. Even though Stanwyck's illness is psychosomatic, she does suffer. Why she's always lashing out at people. Lancaster feels emasculated and cant be his own man etc.......

 

And there are sympathetic supporting characters. Ann, who goes out of her way to help Stanwyck and investigates what's going on. And the chemist (who's name I've forgotten) who gets swept up in Lancaster's drug selling scheme.........

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> {quote:title=EugeniaH wrote:}{quote}

>

> Thanks, L.E. :) I need to take a break from the boards for a bit but couldn't resist responding to your post. Here's my take on these films:

>

>

>

>

Thanks for stopping by, EugeniaH! I certainly know what you mean about needing to break from Boards for a while, it is addictive and it takes quite a bit of time.

 

I agree with your assessment of Stanwyck's performance in Sorry, Wrong Number....I was expecting over the top (a lot of people had told me so) and I thought it was really fine, layered and in crescendo.

 

I hope you stay for my most anticipated post ;) ...my "study" on why Stanwyck never got a competitive award! I thought it would be appropriate since we are approaching the award Season. I will probably get around to post it tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

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>

> Interesting POV, Andy. I think one reason why I feel that Lancaster doesn't work is that his character just isn't very 'dynamic'. I don't feel that his character is very interesting to watch. I think part of that is the actor's mis-fit in the role but maybe it's the writing moreso. I find Stanwyck's character sympathetic because even though she has her flaws, she is still suffering. How do you think the characters are "creepy"?

>

I guess I can't see how the Stanwyck character in SWN is anything *but* creepy, given that she was the consummate control freak from the first reel to the last, always thinking of her own wishes and basically nothing else. And it's hard to see what someone like Lancaster would ever have seen in her beyond her money, given the way she tried to dominate and control him right from the start.

 

I suppose that Stanwyck's behavior might be excused in part by her equally creepy father, and Lancaster's actions excused by his desire to escape his background. And Stanwyck, as always, plays her part very well. But I can't help it: My only reaction to Stanwyck during that entire film was "Someone lock that woman up and throw away the key", and my reaction to Lancaster's problems with Stanwyck was "What the hell do you expect when you let a woman buy you?" There were one or two sympathetic minor characters in there, but the whole tone of he movie is set by the two leads, and the word that IMO best describes both of them is "creepy".

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*I hope you stay for my most anticipated post*

 

For sure! I'm posting less lately but I still visit here on a daily basis. I look forward to your analytic assessment. ;)

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They shot Stanwyck's bedroom scenes in sequence and in tandem. I think that really helped shade her performance........

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*I guess I can't see how the Stanwyck character in SWN is anything but creepy, given that she was the consummate control freak from the first reel to the last, always thinking of her own wishes and basically nothing else.*

 

I agree on that, and her controlling nature and need to have all attention focused on her is why she had the psychosomatic illness, which she fully bought as real because she couldn't save herself even when her life was in danger. That part is kind of pathetic - she isn't an intentionally vicious or evil woman; just wrapped up in her neuroses.

 

*And it's hard to see what someone like Lancaster would ever have seen in her beyond her money, given the way she tried to dominate and control him right from the start.*

 

Yeah, and he got fed up with that after a while, lol.

 

*My only reaction to Stanwyck during that entire film was "Someone lock that woman up and throw away the key"*

 

She was kind of "locked up" by her psychological problems, but I agree, not good wife material. ;)

 

*and my reaction to Lancaster's problems with Stanwyck was "What the hell do you expect when you let a woman buy you?"*

 

Yes, I don't think he's completely a "victim"

 

*and the word that IMO best describes both of them is "creepy".*

 

I see your point. ;)

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*They shot Stanwyck's bedroom scenes in sequence and in tandem. I think that really helped shade her performance........*

 

I had read somewhere that Stanwyck wanted to film all her scenes together because she could more easily keep up her level of hysteria in her role, instead of taking a break and then winding herself up again, which was too draining.

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I guess the problem with SWN Andy is that they started off with the 22 minute radio program and they had to create a background story from there. They could have come up with a better story with more layers for sure, but I still find the film suspenseful and very elegantly done.

 

Lancaster is a really weak and completely unsympathetic character but in a way as Hibi mentioned, both characters are really not "listening" to each other...there are traces of goodness in them. But I agree with EugeniaH, he underplayed his character too much to the point of disappearing and it would have been nice to like him a little bit even if he planned to kill his wife...Anyways, the point of the whole film is precisely what you mention, lock that woman up and make her shup up...but on the other hand, don't let anything bad happen to her...which is what they achieved IMO.

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> {quote:title=EugeniaH wrote:}{quote} I had mentioned somewhere that Robert Mitchum may have been better in the Lancaster role; even though Lancaster's character was supposed to be weak, I think he underplayed it too much.

>

> .

>

SWN was a missed opportunity having such a great leading man like Lancaster, same as with Bogart in the Two Mrs. Carroll...to me is as if they had never worked together really because both Lancaster and Bogart were so miscast/not-their-best in those films

 

I think that in addition to James Stewart and Cary Grant, the only big name she did not work with was Spencer Tracy.

 

I find a lot of similarities between James Stewart and Henry Fonda, so in a way it’s not “disappointing” they did not work together. But Stewart was more expressive, had more fire than Fonda.

 

I’m not sure Stanwyck and Tracy would have worked well, but Tracy was a great actor, so that’s never an issue :)

 

I would have loved to see Grant and Stanwyck in any type of comedy, that would have been an instant classic. She always wanted to work with him and she was close to do so on two occasions, the closest one was *Once Upon a Honeymoon*, she even did costume tests for the film, but Ginger Rogers snatched it from her. She was also close to co-star with Grant on *Holiday*, she was the first choice until Katharine Hepburn showed interest, and, naturally, being close *friends* with George Cukor, she got the part. Not too sad about *Once Upon a Honeymoon*, but Holiday was a true missed opportunity. I think Kate Hepburn was excellent in it, but Stanwyck would have made her character more earthy, which is something the audiences would have appreciated. Plus, Cukor being such a great actress director…he would have done wonders with Stanwyck, don’t you guys think?

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I agree with you... A Stanwyck-Tracy pairing in a movie seems like 'oil and water' to me. But yes, he's one of the greats, I love Spencer Tracy and I especially love him and Hepburn together. With Grant and Stanwyck, they would have been a better match but more sad in terms of missed opportunities, in my opinion, was Grant and Carole Lombard in a screwball comedy.

 

I'm not a big Henry Fonda fan but he was a great fit in *The Lady Eve*. It was a hard role to fill, a 'virginal' man who still had his own personality, a character that wasn't completely overshadowed by Stanwyck's Jean. It's a tricky balance. Stewart may have been a better actor overall but, sorry to say, I'm not a huge Stewart fan, either. He and Stanwyck definitely would have worked, though...

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> {quote:title=LadyE wrote:}{quote}I guess the problem with SWN Andy is that they started off with the 22 minute radio program and they had to create a background story from there. They could have come up with a better story with more layers for sure, but I still find the film suspenseful and very elegantly done.

>

> Lancaster is a really weak and completely unsympathetic character but in a way as Hibi mentioned, both characters are really not "listening" to each other...there are traces of goodness in them. But I agree with EugeniaH, he underplayed his character too much to the point of disappearing and it would have been nice to like him a little bit even if he planned to kill his wife...Anyways, the point of the whole film is precisely what you mention, lock that woman up and make her shup up...but on the other hand, don't let anything bad happen to her...which is what they achieved IMO.

>

Well, other than letting her get murdered in the last reel, that is. ;)

 

And I agree with you that SWN did bring forth the suspense, which was about all that kept me watching. Part of my problem is that I hold Stanwyck (and Lancaster) movies to such an insanely high standard that when I saw them billed together I was hoping for something on the level of Double Indemnity or The Killers, which IMO is the top noir Hollywood ever made.

 

 

Okay, I admit that it's probably not too realistic to have expected that a pairing of Stanwyck and Lancaster would automatically produce a film on the level of two of the top half dozen noirs of all time. But that's just how high a regard I hold those two in.

 

 

P.S. Nice to see you back, Eugenia.

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Hahaha, Andy, I meant that the effect they were looking for towards the audience was to wish nothing happens to her even though she is hateful...I forgot to add that key word...effect on the audience :)

 

And yeah, I agree, the biggest letdown of SWN is to see Lancaster play such a bland character...could have, should have, would have...been a noir...Like I said, to me is as if she really never worked with Lancaster or Bogart.

 

 

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> {quote:title=AddisonDeWitless wrote:

> }{quote}

> I think it's more that Stanwyck, like the similarly Oscarless Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, was pretty much a free-lance artist *without a powerful studio to back her up.* Thus she was not seen as an asset to many and was doubtlessly resented by others. The four actresses she lost Oscars to were all under contract to a big studio or producer- MGM, RKO, Selznick, Warner's...

>

> Barbara didn't have that big-studio push that it took/takes to put you in the winner's circle.

>

Since the 31 Days of Oscars are approaching at TCM, I thought it fitting to write about what I call, The Barbara Stanwyck X-File: she never won a competitive Oscar. I came up with a trifecta of factors that worked as the “perfect storm” against Stanwyck come award times. Your thoughts are much appreciated!

 

 

# *Freelancing* - lack of Studio backing as Addison explains in an earlier post. With the exception of the Warner’s period 1932-1935, Barbara Stanwyck was a freelancer throughout her career. So at Oscar’s time not only she wasn’t block-voted by any particular studio, and was not supported massively by their PR machine, but on top of that she was not given the "prestige" vehicles that top studio stars would be getting that made it "easier" to get nominations and awards to begin with. \ \

# Stanwyck did not play the *PR/Hollywood game* come awards time. Stanwyck was seen as a sort of outsider in Hollywood, especially in the 30s. She was loved by the little people, but not so sure she was liked by the Hollywood elites (respected, yes, but liked/loved?...not sure). Although Stanwyck would do public events as required by the studios where she was working, was respected by coworkers and peers, she was known to be private. She did not host lavish parties for studio execs and producers and she did not attend them either. I doubt she ever even attempted to suck up to the press or openly petition for votes from members. \ \

# {size:small}*She made it look too easy!* Her acting style was considered natural and lacked the affectation that most critics and peers considered inherent to "top acting". She was always called "great natural actress" as if that is something worth noting. Natural acting is now the NORM, but back then, it seems a little affectation was more valued and admired. Robert Osborne mentioned in one of his intros that Bette Davis said to him that in her films she always tried to find ways to remind the audiences that she was “acting”. Stanwyck on the other hand mentioned that when she was doing a role, especially a good one, she was being someone other than herself. That kind of approach to acting was not really appreciated until the method acting became mainstream and popularized a more naturalist, character oriented acting style in the mid 50s.

Another important thing to note. With the exception of the Kennedy Center Honors Award, she was awarded every single major career achievement award out there at the end of her career at a time when those awards were also given to the golden age actors, producers, directors (AFI, SAG, LAFC, NYC Lincoln Film Center Honors, Cecil B. DeMille, Oscars). This just confirms that she was massively overlooked in her time. I think on the actress department, only Bette Davis received as many Life Achievements accolades (Kate Hepburn would have also received those if she weren’t so reluctant to appear at Award ceremonies). I know people tend to overlook those life achievement awards, but they do have weigh, especially because she was awarded ALL of them!

 

Anyways, your feedback is gladly appreciated...do I get brownie points for this post? :^0

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Great assessment and enjoyable reading, LadyE!

 

Browsing one of my favorite websites this morning, the Classic Movie Blog Association (clamba.blogspot.com), ironically enough I came across a review for *Sorry, Wrong Number*, where the author expresses the same thoughts as Andy, that the characters in the film weren't likeable, etc. Here's the link:

 

http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/sorry-wrong-number-1948-anatole-litvak/#more-14425

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> {quote:title=Hibi wrote:}{quote}Well said, LadyE!

I'll third that. I especially like the point LadyE made about the fact that at the time of Stanwyck's career, "acting" (or what I'd call overacting) seemed to win more Brownie points than Stanwyck's far more "natural" style. To me that's exactly what places Stanwyck above all of her contemporaries, but back then that didn't seem to be a widely shared opinion.

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Thank you guys! Glad that you enjoyed it! I think probably factors 1 and 3 are the heavier ones for sure. In any case, as someone said earlier in this thread, who cares who won what? What's important is the legacy and the work left behind for us to enjoy!

 

I've been trying to find Time Out's Film Guide for 1994 and 1995. To celebrate the Film Centenary, Time Out Magazine – London Edition did a survey amongst an impressive list of director’s and film critics and asked to provide a list of their top 10 films, directors and actors, which they assembled to create a list of top 100 films, top directors, top actors. They used a point system, and adding all of the points combined…turns out Stanwyck was No. 2 behind Kate Hepburn (my top two!). I have only found one reference to this in a magazine (see link below), I have found the top 100 film list, but never found the other lists. The polls were supposedly included as part of the Time Out Film Guide for 94 or 95. So if anyone ever comes accross that, give me a shout :)

 

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-03-16/entertainment/35446820_1_barbara-stanwyck-stella-dallas-frank-capra

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LadyE, I say again, I'm just loving your enthusiasm and your posts. I'm burnt out on ideas but it's great to read your intelligent perspective on films in general, and also as someone who has an in-depth knowledge of Stanwyck's films, etc.

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Thank you EugeniaH! It has been a real pleasure to participate in this thread so far :) and other threads that were also really interesting to me. I'm relatively new to these Boards and I am not nearly as knowledgeable and articulate as some posters, so I'm out of my league on other threads, but classic films are very dear to my heart and it's always great to discuss with people in these Boards who share the same enthusiasm . I can tell you as a long admirer of Classic films, my "discovery" of Stanwyck about two years ago made quite an impact on me, as you can see, and compelled me to watch her whole filmopgrahy, something I've only done for Kate Hepburn so far...

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