One of classic Hollywood’s great dames, Barbara Stanwyck enjoyed an acting career that lasted well over fifty years and stretched from the early days of talking pictures to the golden age of television. Like many classic stars, Stanwyck could do it all; she appeared in comedies, melodramas, westerns, and stylish noir thrillers, and her tremendous screen presence always served her well. Here are ten of Stanwyck’s most memorable performances.
1. “Baby Face” (1933)
2. “Stella Dallas” (1937)
3. “Ball of Fire” (1941)
4. “The Lady Eve” (1941)
5. “Meet John Doe” (1941)
6. “Double Indemnity” (1944)
7. “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945)
8. “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946)
9. “Sorry, Wrong Number” (1948)
10. “The File on Thelma Jordan” (1950)
The Headliner: “Double Indemnity” (1944)
Dir. Billy Wilder
Wilder’s white hot masterpiece of the film noir style immortalizes Stanwyck as a faithless femme fatale who manipulates and betrays Fred MacMurray in order to collect a hefty life insurance payout on her unsuspecting husband. Despite a famously bad wig, Stanwyck gives an electrifying performance in the role of the scheming Phyllis Dietrichson, thus becoming one of the great icons of classic noir. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including a nomination for Stanwyck as Best Actress.
The Hidden Gem: “Stella Dallas” (1937)
Dir. King Vidor
Her performance in this classic melodrama earned Stanwyck her first of four Oscar nominations for Best Actress. As the title character, she becomes an image of the ultimate maternal martyr, sacrificing her own happiness for the good of her beloved child. Foolish, crass, and even ridiculous at times, the character gives Stanwyck a chance to demonstrate the full scope of her abilities as an actress.
The Cult Classic: “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946)
Dir. Lewis Milestone
As Martha, Stanwyck plays another noir femme fatale, this time a desparate rich girl determined to keep the secrets of her past from coming to light. Her paranoia and need for control make her dangerous to everyone around her, but especially to her husband (Kirk Douglas) and her childhood friend (Van Heflin). Although not particularly well known today, the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Writing after its original release.
For still more Stanwyck, read reviews of “Night Nurse” (1931) and “Lady of Burlesque” (1943).
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