There is nothing more shocking pre-code, than an early Barbara Stanwyck movie. Some of her most infamous, really stretched any semblance of a code before Breen took over as the strict enforcer of the code. Ladies of Leisure (1930), Illicit (1931), The Miracle Woman (1931), Ten Cents a Dance (1931), Night Nurse (1931), The Purchase Price (1932), Forbidden (1932), Shopworn (1932), The Bitter Tea of General Yen(1933), Ladies They Talk About(1933), and the very notorious Baby Face(1933) which I am thinking just about drove the censors right over the edge. These movies while good, really pushed the envelope.
A Life of Barbara Stanwyck is an intimidating looking book at 860 pages (really 1044 pages if you include appendixes of Stage, Film, Radio, and Television Chronologies etc.). We learn about her life of practically growing up on the stage. Then her move to Hollywood and her 36 movies made between the years 1927 through 1940. It is an excellent film reference book, that doesn’t read like a reference book.
It is an impressively written stage and filmography of not only Barbara but Directors, Actors, and film friends that worked with Barbara. The author Victoria Wilson also includes information about the early labor unions in film, politics, and breakdowns of who got paid what on each film or play Barbara was involved in. It is a well written book that reads like a who’s who of early Hollywood. I’ve read other Barbara books but this is the pièce de résistance.
Don’t be put-off by the size of Vol. I. It is a good, curl up and get lost in classic Hollywood book. Of course now I can’t wait to read Vol. II I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long for it to be published…
Illicit(1931 Warner Brothers): Barbara Stanwyck
“There have been women who want to park their heads on this manly bosom.” Illicit
Fearing the loss of her freedom Ann refuses to get married to a man desperately in love with her. The thing is is she’s absolutely hopelessly in love with him too…but her parent’s divorce left a sour taste in her mouth and she can’t bring herself to tie the knot. Still they can’t go on like this when rumors start circulating. So Dick tells her he can’t see her anymore unless they get married. So in the spur of the moment, and against all her better judgment Ann consents, even though she doesn’t believe in marriage, believes it causes oodles of problems, and is urged by a close friend not to do it. The friend is probably the most intriguing thing in this film, because he too doesn’t believe in marriage, loves Ann just as she is, and wants nothing more from her. Dick begins to go astray with an ex-girlfriend and Ann calls him out on it. With a fresh take on problems so prevalent in society today, this pre-code can teach lessons on how to love, be married and not lose your identity.
Barbara seem so young in this film at 24, and still her acting is spot on! It’s so impressive. And keep an eye out for the devilish Ricardo Cortez as Price Baines, another spot on performance.
Watching Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray trying not to fall in love as thief and prosecuting attorney, we almost wonder how they ever had a chance- sleeping in cars together, going to dances together, dealing with crazy family drama together, and getting arrested together usually just end up one place- a relationship.
Enjoy this one all the way from the Courthouse to Niagara Falls and back again.
June 22, 1906 ~ March 27, 2002
….on Audrey Hepburn
“She was so gracious and graceful that everybody fell in love with her after five minutes. Everybody was in love with this girl, I included. My problem was that I am a guy who speaks in his sleep. I toss around and talk and talk…but fortunately, my wife’s first name is Audrey as well. ”
…..on Marilyn Monroe, who he had a terribly difficult time directing,
“Whatever she threw away, we printed it, and it was very good. It was very, very good. She had a kind of elegant vulgarity about her. That, I think, was very important. And she automatically knew where the joke was. She did not discuss it. She came for the first rehearsal, and she was absolutely perfect. She had a feeling for and a fear of the camera. Fright. She also loved the camera. Whatever she did, wherever she stood, there was always that thing that comes through. She was not even aware of it.”
…..on Jack Lemmon
“I’m terribly fond of Jack. We understand each other very well and it’s a pleasure to work with him. He is a thinking actor, but not an argumentative one. By that way I mean if we start shooting at nine o’clock, he would be there at 8:15 and would come to my office and say, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Look, why don’t we do this? Blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I just look at him, and he says, “I don’t like it either.” And he walks out.”
……on Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity
“Sure, that was a highly intelligent actress, Miss Stanwyck. I questioned the wig, but it was proper, because it was a phony wig. It was an obviously phony wig. And the anklet — the equipment of a woman, you know, that is married to this kind of man. They scream for murder.
Yeah, naturally we rehearsed this thing. But I rehearsed it with her once or twice, that’s the maximum, and it was not that much different from the way she would have done it. She was just an extraordinary woman. She took the script, loved it, right from the word go, didn’t have the agent come and say, “Look, she’s to play a murderess, she must get more money, because she’s never going to work again.”
With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody‘s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake — just a wonderful brain she had”
March 15, 1899 ~ May 26, 1979 George Brent Female, Baby Face
I never liked George Brent more than I did in the pre-code film Female. Playing opposite Ruth Chatterton, who I had only known prior in the Simone Simon vehicle, Girls Dormitory, Brent plays the Alpha Male. Brent’s status as a man matters of course, because until now, Ruth Chatteron’s Miss Drake had only succeeded in drawing weak and vain men into her lair; men she could quickly discard before work the next morning when she chose to be bored and send them far away to places like Montreal. And while it had to be rough being a woman in the 30’s in charge of an automobile factory, it had to be worse not being seen as a woman at all- enter George Brent. Brent comes on the scene, dashing, take charge, and not one bit interested that Miss Drake owns the factory he now works in. Nope, see he saw Miss Drake, before he realized she would be his boss… and when lured to her lair, he quickly comes back with “…I like to do my own hunting,” leaving her high and dry. He is in fact the Alpha Male, and in order to win him, she’s gotta tone it down. Brent does his best in this romantic comedy of role reversal, playing dashing, fun, and when pulling out that marriage license “wanting to be respectable after last night.” So sweet. Of course he still has some hoops to jump through before things work out, but gosh, its sure fun watching. In Baby Face he plays the last guy on Barbara Stanwyck’s ladder to “success”. After a bit of struggle she finally gives in and marries our dashing hero, but not without doing some major soul searching first…soul searching that in the end puts their whole romance in jeopardy. But don’t worry, Barbara and George have done this dance before. They get together in The Purchase Price as well, another wonderful Pre-Code gem found in the Forbidden Hollywood series. And if you’re looking for one of those respectable films, don’t worry, George made those too. Playing Mr. Ransome in the The Rains Came, he’s the reformed playboy/alcoholic who goes about saving a whole piece of India, and an 18 year old debutante too. Its for all these reasons and more that we simply can’t get enough of George. Happy Birthday!!!
Rochellelynn is correct we have watched A LOT of Classic Hollywood films. And making this list only confirms what I believed in the past. I am a Warner Brothers Studio Girl and Rochellelynn is an MGM Studio Girl. And I mean Studio as opposed to Archive. Because any Studio film can end up in an Archive or Vault Collection set. When you our illustrious readers compile your own mandatory film list it will be fun to see what kind of Classic Hollywood Film Studio type girl or boy you are, let us know!
Adventures of Robin Hood…Warner Brothers-1938
All Through the Night…Warner Brothers-1942
Angels Wash Their Faces…Warner Brothers-1939
Angels with Dirty Faces…Warner Brothers-1938
Because of Him…Universal-1946
Black Swan…20th Century Fox-1942
Bride Came C.O.D, The.…Warner Brothers-1941
Brother Rat…Warner Brothers-1938
Calamity Jane…Warner Brothers-1953
Dead End…Samuel Goldwyn-1937
Dinner at Eight…MGM-1933
Edge of Darkness…Warner Brothers-1943
Four Daughters…Warner Brothers-1938
Gone With the Wind…David O. Seltznik-1939
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…Mickey Rooney…MGM-1939
Hunchback of Notre Dame…Charles Laughton…RKO-1939
I Married a Witch…United Artist-1942
It Happened One Night…Columbia-1934
Inn of the Sixth Happiness…20th Century Fox-1958
It Started with Eve…Universal-1941
Juke Girl…Warner Brothers-1942
Life with Father…Warner Brothers-1947
Mad About Music…Universal-1938
Male Animal…Warner Brothers-1942
Meet John Doe…Warner Brothers-1941
Miracle of Morgan’s Creek…Paramount-1944
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town…Columbia-1936
My Favorite Wife…RKO-1940
Only Angels Have Wings…Columbia-1939
Perils of Pauline…Paramount-1947
Princess O’Rourke…Warner Brothers1943
Rachel and the Stranger…RKO-1948
Shepherd of the Hills…Paramount-1941
So Proudly We Hail…Paramount-1943
Strawberry Blonde…Warner Brothers-1941
Taming of the Shrew…Columbia-1967
Tarzan the Ape Man…Johnny Weissmuller…MGM-1932
To Have and Have Not…Warner Brothers-1944
Trouble with Angels…Columbia-1966
Unfaithful, The…Warner Brothers-1947
Viva Las Vegas…MGM-1964
We’re no Angels…Paramount-1955
What a Way to Go…20th Century Fox-1964
You Were Never Lovelier…Columbia-1942
Note: We’ve watched A LOT of classic Hollywood films. This is my list so far- and no they’re not necessarily based on anything even close to “merit.” I know annstj will have her own list, so look out for a LIST TWO. This was prompted by my younger brother asking what “other” old films he should watch( other than Thin Man) to complete his Classic Hollywood Education. Add your own Mandatories in the comments.
American in Paris…MGM -1951
Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer…RKO-1947
Ball of Fire…Samuel Goldwyn Co. -1941
Big Sleep…Warner Brothers – 1946
Breakfast at Tiffany’s…Paramount-1961
Bringing up Baby…RKO-1938
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…20th Century Fox-1969
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof…MGM-1958
Christmas in Connecticut…Warner Brothers-1945
Darby O’Gill and the Little People…Walt Disney-1959
Gay Divorcee, The…RKO-1934
Glass Bottomed Boat…MGM-1966
Good Fairy, The…Universal-1935
His Girl Friday…Columbia-1940
How to Marry a Millionaire…20th Century Fox-1953
How to Steal a Million…20th Century Fox-1966
Lady Eve, The…Paramount-1941
Major and the Minor…Paramount-1942
Mark of Zorro…20th Century Fox-1940
More the Merrier, The…Columbia-1943
Move over Darling…20th Century Fox-1963
Mr. and Mrs. Smith…RKO-1941
Music Man…Warner Brothers-1962
My Fair Lady…Warner Brothers-1964
My Man Godfrey…Universal-1936
My Sister Eileen…Columbia-1942
Singing in the Rain…MGM-1952
Some Like It Hot…United Artists-1959
Something in the Wind…Universal International-1947
Take Me Out to the Ballgame…MGM-1949
Thoroughly Modern Millie…Universal International- 1967
Three Smart Girls…Universal-1936
Tom Jones…Woodfall Film Productions-1963
Two Sisters From Boston…MGM-1946
February 2, 1884 ~ January 12, 1955 S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall
Catastrophe- pronounced Cat-A-Strof – is an ongoing joke at my house, courtesy of S.Z Sakall and his inability to understand Barbara Stanwyck’s predicament in Christmas in Conneticut. Whether it be creating Goulash out of Irish Stew, teaching Barbara how to flip flapjacks, or trying to spill soup on Errol Flynn’s dates, S. Z Sakall lent humor, and strategy to many a great comedy in his time. His distinctive Hungarian accent, and excellent comedic timing often helped loosen the mood .
Whether it was helping out Errol Flynn get back his ex wife in Never Say Goodbye, or attempting to understand Barbara Stanwyck’s street slang in Ball of Fire, Cuddles also adds a nice bit of flavor to those classic romantic comedies we know and love. Happy Birthday!