Friday, January 14, 2011

Mug Shots #16: Barbara Stanwyck aka The Angel of Death

Over on the nice side of town she's the heroine of slapstick comedies and Capra parables, but over here in the land of perpetual night Stanwyck is death in high heels. From THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS to CRIME OF PASSION, she killed more men than smoking. Her most famous role, of course, was as the archetypal femme fatale, Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

Full disclosure: unlike many noir geeks, I'm not really a Stanwyck devotee. I like her, I'm never unhappy to see her in a movie, but I don't love her. There's something about her clench-jawed intensity that doesn't attract me. Her spunk plays well in comedies (my favorite Stanwyck performance is as the wisecracking Sugarpuss O'Shea in BALL OF FIRE) because her inner tomboy is allowed to come out and play with the guys. Something in her noir persona, however, leaves me a little cold. Maybe it comes down to this: I'm pretty sure Ava Gardner could have talked me into murder. I'm not sure Stanwyck could.

Even if Stanwyck has never been my favorite actress, I would never deny her impact on noir. Among A-list female stars, no one spent more time in Noirville. For a lot of people, Barbara Stanwyck is the embodiment of the femme fatale.

Essential Stanwyck Noir:
Double Indemnity
Clash By Night
The File on Thelma Jordan
Sorry, Wrong Number
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
No Man Of Her Own

Non-noir Stanwyck:
Ball of Fire
The Lady Eve
Meet John Doe
Golden Boy

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