“My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen female in a different way from my thirty-ninth.”

by Lies Lanckman

In February of this year, I was asked to contribute to the launch event of the BFI’s Barbara Stanwyck season – an invitation I very happily accepted, since I frequently describe Stanwyck (along with Ingrid Bergman) as “my Norma before I met Norma”. While Norma Shearer ended up becoming “my” primary star, and the topic of my PhD thesis, I discovered Stanwyck a few years earlier, and she really was my gateway to various film-historical contexts, including most particularly the joys of the pre-Code era. While I loved Double Indemnity, and while The Lady Eve sold me on Stanwyck for good, it was probably the wonderfully and astonishingly pre-Code Ladies They Talk About that made me a real devotee. I love pre-Code Stanwyck, and my talk at the BFI’s event therefore focused on that part of her career, a part which, I think, was really foundational for the great versatility of her later years.

Post-talk, I found myself – understandably – on a bit of a Stany high, partially thanks to the films I’d rewatched in preparing my own part, and partially thanks to the wonderful talks by my fabulous co-presenters Lucy Bolton, Pamela Hutchinson and Frances Pheasant-Kelly.

At that time, I made the vague plan to blog each of Stanwyck’s pre-Code films for the NoRMMA blog – or rather, I made the vague plan to do this “sometime in summer maybe”. It is now summer, and I realised halfway through writing this that today is also Stanwyck’s birthday; she’s clearly trying to tell me something here, so let’s make a start.

Here’s a full list of Stanwyck’s pre-Code films:

1927
Broadway Nights
1929
The Locked Door
Mexicali Rose
1930
Ladies of Leisure
1931
Illicit
Ten Cents a Dance
The Stolen Jools
Night Nurse
The Miracle Woman
1932
Forbidden
Shopworn
So Big!
The Purchase Price
1933
The Bitter Tea of General Yen
Ladies They Talk About
Baby Face
Ever in My Heart
1934
Gambling Lady

While Stanwyck did make two other films in 1934, those came out technically after the enforcement of the Code on July 1st of that year, so I will end this particular investigation with Gambling Lady. It’s my intention to rewatch each of these films – yes, even The Locked Door, God help my soul – and comment briefly on their plot, themes, and place within Stanwyck’s career, then look at a few items of magazine coverage related to them.

I’ll end this introductory post here, but stay tuned for the next installment on Broadway Nights – Stanwyck’s first, and only lost, film!

For any comments, questions, observations and fannish squeeing – do leave a comment, email me at lies.lanckman@gmail.com, or tweet me at @aladyofchance!

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