THIS IS PART OF THE FUNNY LADY BLOGATHON, HOSTED BY MOVIES SILENTLY
Barbara Stanwyck has been amongst performers since an early age – from sixteen year old showgirl with the Ziegfeld Follies, to Broadway star and censor’s nightmare in pre-code films, it was a long and exciting road till she rocked 1941 with three delicious comedies: The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire, and Meet John Doe. One of the single most versatile actresses of Old Hollywood, Stanwyck became notorious for an acting style that stroke as unusually natural for her time, and an onscreen presence that evoked empathy as well as an uncanny desire to be somehow connected to her, whether through feelings of desire or companionship. It is often said that a certain actress lits the screen; to me, Barbara Stanwyck sets it on fire — and she didn’t do so through sex appeal a la Marilyn Monroe, nor through the dramatic powers of Bette Davis; she took center stage for her quick wits, sincere emotions, empowering confidence, and that extra something that is the secret to every star.
Directed by Preston Sturges in The Lady Eve, Stanwyck played a master con-artist who falls for her prey, Henry Fonda. He’s a rich snake specialist (that’s right) who is far too naïve when around women, and she is perfectly aware of that fact. Aboard a cruise ship, he has nowhere to run, and so she plays him like a pro. Next, working with noted director Frank Capra in Meet John Doe, she interprets a keen journalist who, as a desperate last attempt at keeping her job, writes a fake letter about a man who swears he will commit suicide on Christmas, due to the state of the American society. This brings such attention to the newspaper that castings for this John Doe begin — that’s when Gary Cooper is chosen as the man to lead what quickly escalades into a political movement based on strong values and nobility of character. And of course, romance between the two will arise.
Then came Ball of Fire, directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, and once again featuring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. In this cheerfully sweet story she plays a singer/dancer who, thanks to her connections with a certain gangster in trouble, ends up looking for a safe place to stay on the house where a group of intellectuals is working on a new encyclopaedia. All of them elderly except for a professor in charge of the vocabulary section (Cooper), who falls in love with her. They’re onscreen chemistry works wonderfully thanks to the combo of their two very distinct personalities: while Cooper mumbles timidly feeling like a little boy (yet nonetheless masculine), her fiery presence and disarming confidence acts as the perfect counterbalance, whilst giving true meaning to “opposites attract”.
In all of these she thrives for the sheer confidence of her characters who, particularly in Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve, seem to have the rare talent for controlling the men around them, though never truly being a predator — which is what makes them so damn fascinating. Stanwyck could be loving and strong, intelligent and sexy, funny and fierce. Always an equal on screen, at all times magnetic, and ever true to her character. She embodied a kind of woman that is sadly rare on the big screen nowadays; but thanks to these pictures, they are now immortal.
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