In full disclosure I have to state that before this past weekend I have never watched a Barbara Stanwyck film. This brings forward the clear question of why the heck I signed up for a Barbara Stanwyck Blog-a-thon. I see two camps on this, one, we will call the obvious camp, being that I am woefully under qualified to be a part of this. I prefer my second idea, I am perfect as I was not trying to fight for a particular film and I walked through this door with completely fresh eyes. I am glad that I did.
For the blog-a-thon I chose two films The Woman in Red from 1935 and Executive Suite from 1954. Now I can pretend that I chose these two films because they are about twenty years apart and that would give me a curious peek at Stanwyck’s transformation as an actor but really I just picked two flicks. Although I would definitely suggest lovers of classic film plan a double-bill of a specific performer during two eras of their career there was something special in the two picks. Also, I am very pleased with my picks.
The Woman in Red – dir. Robert Florey – 5.8 – Okay, here is what I knew going into this film. 1. Barbara Stanwyck was the star and 2. it was called The Woman in Red so I assumed someone would be wearing red (even though it is black and white). My experience with classic Hollywood pictures is that the men are strong and the women are doe eyed prizes. The film opens with Stanwyck, Shelby Barret winning a blue ribbon (or say they “claim”) in a horse show. Straight out of the gates the female role was a superior to her male counterparts which was an interesting twist. We then meet Nicko a wealthy widower, the employer of Stanwyck and owner of her prize horse; two women in strong roles, one talent, and one financial.
Soon however we get men starting to show up, both wealthy and both handsome. One of them, Johnny, played by Gene Raymond, somehow convinces Stanwyck to elope with him and move back East with him and start a stable business (that story is a kind of flaky).
When suddenly…Gene Fairchild, played by John Eldredge, with his pencil mustache kills a woman. There is a little more to it but the only person who could testify to Gene’s innocence is a mysterious woman in red who was Stanwyck.
As stories go this one was pretty weak but at 79 minutes it the time cost is not very bad and it is an entertaining film. Especially with so many pro-feminist/equality overtones throughout the picture which truly made the film a bit more interesting. I would suggest that the film is a good introduction to Stanwyck and I am glad that I watched the film. My only hang-ups, again, are poor story and the editing was pretty questionable as various scenes just happened without much cohesion and played out abruptly.
Executive Suite – dir. Robert Wise – 5.7 – In my well thought out double feature Executive Suite finds Barbara Stanwyck in a supporting role of a major shareholder in a furniture company whose president suddenly drops dead leading to a wonderful film of various board members wheeling and dealing to take over the company.
I have not to say that there was some strange synchronicity between watching this film, trying to decide what to write and, unexpected, the State of the Union address. In the heat of the moment, in the film, William Holden has decided to go to the mattresses with an effort to make the heart of the company, the workers, the prime focus of the board. When I was reading the State of the Union on Tuesday night, after I started writing this post, I read the following, “This year, I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers of their communities ends up being good for their shareholders…”
This is the decent thing to do but the evil empires that we are shown time and time again are sketches of corporate leadership only having interest in the shareholders, often at the expense of the company itself.
I think that this is why I enjoyed Executive Suite as much as I did. It is typical for classic Hollywood films to end predictably and often times that is okay. The same ought to be said for The Woman in Red as well. These two films didn’t compliment each other aside from the age difference (and acting quality) of Barbara Stanwyck, but I am glad to have paired them.