Barbara Stanwyck: The Signature Collection
Annie Oakley (1935) - full review!
My Reputation (1946) - full review!
East Side, West Side (1949) - there are a lot of characters in this melodrama based on the Marcia Davenport novel (scripted by Isobel Lennart and directed by Mervyn LeRoy), perhaps too many, and the four prominent names above the title - Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Van Heflin, and Ava Gardner - aren’t the only ones worth watching. Credit Cyd Charisse for (in addition to looking as lovely as ever) playing her dramatic role as credibly as she dances in all those great MGM musicals and Nancy Davis, who within three years would marry Ronald Reagan, for her performance as Stanwyck’s concerned friend. Gale Sondergaard gives her usual strong support, playing Stanwyck’s former stage actress mother, in a part that seems superfluous until the end, and William Conrad rehearses his future as a (TV series) police lieutenant detective. William Frawley appears as a bartender in a scene which seems contrived to give Heflin an opportunity to relive his Johnny Eager (1942) glory. But it’s also the stars of this one that enhance its watch-ability in spite of the material. Stanwyck plays Jessie Bourne, the wife of a wealthy philanderer - Brandon, perfectly played by Mason. He especially can’t resist naughty femme Isabel Lorrison (Gardner), who’d left town for a year during which the Bournes had reconciled. When Isabel returns to town, weak Brandon is unable to keep from straying again and Jessie must ultimately decide whether her loyalty to (and everlasting forgiveness of) him is misplaced. Heflin plays Mark Dwyer, a (too perfect?) grounded adventurer that arrives back in New York at roughly the same time as Isabel. He befriends and then (incredibly) falls in love with Jessie, providing her with an example of how other men (and Brandon should) treat her. Conveniently, Mark had been a city police officer (idolized by Charisse’s character as a child; he’d been working as a government agent overseas), which comes in handy when Isabel is found murdered and Jessie is very nearly a suspect. Douglas Kennedy plays Isabel’s jealous benefactor and mannish blonde Beverly Michaels plays his former mistress.
To Please a Lady (1950) - the title of this one doesn’t make sense until the end, and the stars of this picture are not its top billed actors - Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck - but race cars, their drivers (one of which is played by Gable), and racing action including Indianapolis 500 footage. Produced and directed by Clarence Brown, it was written by Marge Decker and Barré Lyndon. Mike Brannan (Gable) is a decorated war hero Marine that’s now jeered as a villain at midget tracks where he wins most races. This story of "how the mighty have fallen" interests gossip columnist crusader - ala Walter Winchell - Regina Forbes (Stanwyck), who learns the reason for the booing when she sees his "all out, win at all costs" style firsthand, and witnesses the death of a rival driver after which Brannan says "it was either him or me". After she prints a scathing article about the driver, Brannan is barred from racing midgets, but he finally finds work in Joie Chitwood’s Thrill Show, performing death defying stunts until he earns enough money to buy and race Indy-style cars. There’s an improbable romance between the two stars, who exhibit no chemistry whatsoever, along the lines of - she’s never met such a macho man (e.g. with raw sex appeal) and he’s never met a dame like her - in between the action sequences. Adolphe Menjou (Stanwyck’s co-star in another sports related drama, Golden Boy (1939)) plays her editor Gregg. Will Geer, Emory Parnell, as Regina’s sponsor, and Frank Jenks, as a press agent, also appear.
Jeopardy (1953) - the short length of this B movie and the performances by its four actors help elevate this to a worthwhile thriller. Directed by John Sturges with a screenplay by Mel Dinelli from a Maurice Zimm story, it stars Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan as Helen and Doug Stilwin, on a camping vacation south of the border in the deserted Baja peninsula of Mexico with their son Bobby (Lee Aaker). The film begins with narration by Stanwyck’s character, who reveals that she wishes what’s about to happen never did and, during the drama’s lead-in, there are some curious reactions (facial expressions) by her husband to her chattering that seem to foreshadow that the impending problem will be his fault (it will be, but not in the way in which director Sturges has led you to believe). The family stops to camp at the seashore where there are some vacant buildings and a dilapidated pier. After rescuing his son from this dangerous dock, Doug falls and then has his right ankle improbably trapped beneath a log, and the tide’s coming in. Unable to free him, Helen must drive back to the nearest gas station - two hours away - and return before her husband drowns; Bobby stays behind to help his dad. During her journey, Helen encounters a fugitive murderer (Ralph Meeker) who quickly commandeers her car, and the Stilwin’s handgun, and has no intention of returning to the beach to rescue Doug. But Helen is tough, determined, and eventually clever enough to convince Meeker’s character to return to help save her husband from drowning. The film’s ending isn’t any more probable.