Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Barbara Stanwyck

This weekend, a Barbara Stanwyck blogathon is being hosted by http://thegirlwiththewhiteparasol.blogspot.com. I wrote this post last year, but it best reflects my feelings for one of my favorite movie performers.

I honestly think that Barbara Stanwyck was the greatest film actress of all time. She could play just about any role. She could be warm and kind, or bitter and dangerous. She could be attractive and alluring, or she could be plain and unlikeable. She could play a working class girl, and play a woman to the manor born. Stanwyck appeared in musicals, comedies, soap opera style dramas, film noirs, historical epics, westerns.....she worked in just about every genre of film, and she fit right in with all of them.

I think what made Stanwyck so versatile was her hardscrabble background. She always referred to her career as "work", and that's why she was able to play so many different roles in so many types of films. She didn't think of herself as a star, and she took on parts that very few of her contemporaries would have done (or done well if they had). Her outstanding work ethic enabled her to approach every movie with real emotional intensity. When you watch Stanwyck, no matter what the circumstances, you never feel she's being "fake".

Of course, there are those famous "Stanwyck Moments" (like the beginning of THE MIRACLE WOMAN) where she just absolutely lets rip, and you can almost feel the paint peeling off the walls. But her acting ability was more than just yelling and screaming--Stanwyck could get across more with one look than several other actresses would with a dozen pages of dialogue.

My favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance is BALL OF FIRE, but I have to admit that my favorite Stanwyck scene is the ending of STELLA DALLAS. Stanwyck is standing outside a window, in the rain, watching her daughter's high-class wedding. She doesn't break down sobbing, and she doesn't move away listlessly.....she walks briskly away, head held high, with a satisfied smile on her lips. Stella Dallas isn't a loser...she's a winner.

THAT'S what always comes to my mind when I think of Barbara Stanwyck.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Can you contact me privately? I would like to discuss your Stanwyck article in more detail. Thanks!

    1. Reel Old Films--I have sent you a message through GMail.

  3. Hmmmm . . . Something we agree with. This is frightening. I agree with your assessment of Stanwyck as the greatest, as she could do it all. (Don't think she ever took on sci-fi, but our girl coulda handled it with ease.) And yes, BALL OF FIRE is my favorite! That's two things we agree on. This is getting frightening.

  4. She could do it all--something that you can't really say about the great Bette Davis or Kate Hepburn. There was no genre off-limits for Babs.

  5. Your description of the scene in Stella Dallas is spot on. I also agree with you about two of the qualities that make Stanwyck stand out from her contemporaries (and from actresses today for that matter). Her incredible versatility and her lack of star privilege. Somehow she managed to take over 80 film roles and imbue them all with a sense of dignity and intelligence. But she was never a snob about it. She was fun, she was energetic, she had life. All qualities that Ball of Fire shows off in abundance.

    Thanks for treating us to this sweet look at an actress so many of us cherish.

  6. I agree with you re: Barbara Stanwyck being one of the greats. Really, there wasn't anything she couldn't do.

    I prefer Stanwyck in the noirs, but she was fabulous in comedic roles as well.

    Great post!

  7. Totally agree that she could do it all - I love her performances in some of the pre-Codes in particular, but she is also great in her comedies and noirs. And 'Ball of Fire' is fantastic! Judy

  8. Great post-and you are so correct in your assessment of Stanwyck's abilities. She could act in dramas or sparkle in comedies, could dance and even sing...I have heard that crews on her films loved her to because she treated them kindly and would visit with them, not treat them shabbily in any way.

  9. You're right that she could paly any part, and play it well. My favorite of her performances is also Ball of Fire.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  10. I agree with your points, particularly your point about movie-making being a way for Stanwyck to support herself, and the pride she had in the work-a-day world. If you compare Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn all at the age of 25 (about 1932), Stanwyck has superior range, technique and emotional depth. I personally don't think there's much comparison. If you take the same three actresses at age 75 (roughly ... The Thorn Birds 1983, On Golden Pond 1981, Death on the Nile 1978), I think you find Barbara with more energy, focus and talent. One additional thought: I find that I am drawn to Stanwyck's characters. She acts quietly and naturally, so that I don't want to look away from the screen for fear of missing an important shift in the story she tells through her acting. With Davis and Hepburn, as great and luminous as they are as Hollywood stars, I am less attentive to their performance because I feel that the gist of their characters is shoved at me early in the movie and that makes me less interested in following the emotional changes as the story unfolds.

  11. i try to watch her movie on youtube its really fun to watch those old movies im just curious to watch those old movies anyways the

    barbara stanwyck movies
    barbara stanwyck photos above is still looks nice even its black in white