E1 Entertainment // 1960 // 390 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // February 17th, 2010
Running from September 1960 until September 1961, The Barbara Stanwyck Show came at the tailend of network-produced anthology programs. The first half of this series, presented by E1, reveals an expert, if forgotten, production. The show features performances from hostess and lead Barbara Stanwyck (Sorry, Wrong Number) worthy of the Emmy Award she received for her work. The first fifteen episodes of the program appear in this volume over three discs, plus the unaired pilot episode which has been included as a special feature.
* "The Key to the Killer"
Stanwyck plays Stella King, a sheriff's deputy, who is handcuffed to a sass-talking murderer with a gun (Vic Morrow, God's Little Acre) in his belt. To ensure her life, she throws the key into a canyon and finds her way into the killer's heart.
* "House in Order"
The Mowry family is falling apart. Elizabeth (Stanwyck) and Bill (Shepperd Strudwick, Daring Game) aren't getting along at all anymore. Teenage Susan (Yvonne Craig, Kissin' Cousins) is about to get married and ruin her life, but neither of her parents really care. Just when things seem their worst, Elizabeth finds out that she must have emergency surgery in thirteen hours. Can she get her family's life in order before she has to say goodbye?
* "The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan"
While trying to get a shipment of dresses out of customs hock, importer/exporter Josephine Little (Stanwyck) promises a young Chinese boy (Dick Kay Hong) she'll help him get a visa into the United States. Unfortunately, her contact to help (Ralph Bellamy, Rosemary's Baby) is the same one holding up her dresses.
* "The Secret of Mrs. Randall"
Widowed oil executive Liz Randall (Stanwyck) has hired a new assistant, an ex-con (Bruce Gordon, Piranha) convicted of stealing the payroll of the very same company. When she starts to fall for him, her mother-in-law begins a campaign to destroy Liz's life.
* "Ironbark's Bride"
After raising her son into his teens without her dead outlaw husband, Ella Cahill (Stanwyck) decides to remarry. She wants to make sure her son doesn't join his father in the graveyard, but when her dead husband shows up alive, her new husband (Charles Bickford, Little Miss Marker) doesn't take too kindly to seeing him.
* "Pilot Episode"
Presented as an extra on the menu, this unaired episode stars Stanwyck as the wife of an old west Kansas sheriff (Jeff Morrow, This Island Earth), sent into action when her son comes down with Scarlet Fever and an old man comes looking for her husband...and revenge.
* "Out of the Shadows"
Psychiatrist Dr. Susan Bryce (Stanwyck) was once a victim of a brutal attack. When she interviews a convict seeking parole, she finds an uncanny resemblance to the attacker, and tries her best to keep him in the can. The parole board disagrees and frees him, so he comes looking for Dr. Bryce to show his "appreciation" for her obstruction.
* "Night Visitor"
Marion (Stanwyck) is getting ready to head to the airport during her impending divorce when a woman barges in, claiming to be her husband's mistress. Marion gets herself into danger, however, by acting tough and asking questions, only to find out the woman is worse than a mistress.
* "Size 10"
When the design for her latest dress comes up missing, powerful fashion designer Maggie Wenley suspects that anyone could be involved. Her paranoia ruins her relationships, especially when the culprit is closer than she can imagine.
* "Dear Charlie"
After their father dies, two elderly sisters put an ad in the paper to rent out a room. Charlie Zane (Milton Berle, Margin for Error) answers the call, and he seems really sweet, but he has a nefarious plot in the works that could take both women's fortunes.
* "Dragon by the Tail"
Stanwyck reprises her role as importer/exporter Josephine Little. This time, she finds herself enlisted by the CIA to oust a kidnapped nuclear scientist from his captors in Indochina.
* "The Sisters"
In order to help her nephew with his operation, Stanwyck poses as a jewel thief so she can meet the boy's father, who her sister divorced a decade ago. When she finds him, she also finds a man she might be able to fall in love with, and he just might feel the same.
* "Big Career"
Harriet Melvana (Stanwyck) is a successful businesswoman who has let her career ambitions get in the way of her marriage. As her life starts to crumble, she realizes that her priorities must change before she loses it all.
Paula Manning (Stanwyck) walks into a police station to confess a murder. As the cops listen, she describes a winding tale of violence, intrigue, and the deadly passion of lust.
* "Along the Barbary Coast"
Detective Pete Bishop (Jerome Thor, Murphy's Law) comes back from the war looking to rekindle his love to tough-talking Trixie Callahan (Stanwyck). He finds that she has moved on, though, and gone into business with a man Bishop sent away for murder.
A mere hours before she was to deliver a formula that would change humanity, atomic physicist Rachel Harrison (Stanwyck) finds out that her daughter died in an accident. In grief, Rachel falls silent, and an Army psychologist much work tirelessly to get inside her mind and find that formula.
Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress in film history, but even she is beholden to her material sometimes. There is a lot of good in The Barbara Stanwyck Show, including our illustrious hostess, but the quality varies greatly from episode to episode. At its best, the show is a great display of acting and short storytelling. If only more episodes were like "Confession," costarring Lee Marvin (The Killers) as a lawyer who takes up Stanwyck's divorce case, only to have a darker plan to offer. This episode is directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat People), a name that comes up often during the series. He directs five of the sixteen episodes, including the very best ones. Some of his are also the very worst, however, and some of those that suffer the most from the passing of time.
By far the best episode is Tourneur's "Dear Charlie," which also happens to be the only one in which Stanwyck does not appear. This is a brilliant little Hitchcockian piece of work, taking place almost entirely within the confines of the home. Milton Berle's dramatic turn is fantastic; it's great to watch him use his humor to charm the old ladies and play each woman's insecurities off the other. It's brilliant all the way around.
Not so brilliant are the episodes featuring Stanwyck as smart-alecky Josephine Little, which is some kind of attempt at a serialized adventurer. They are two of the hokiest half-hours of television you can ask for, and today they come off racist. Poorly drawn stuff and poor work from Tourneur, who directed both of them.
The good side of the series is that there is little repetition of plot or genre, so there's something for every taste. Stanwyck is mostly excellent, whether she's in a western plot or playing an urban businesswoman, but that's par for the course for her career. Sometimes, she ventures into some sanctimony, including an ad-libbed patriotic speech she gives at the end of "Dragon by the Tail"; which was entered in to the Congressional record for some reason.
The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Volume 1 is fine on DVD, if nothing spectacular. The image looks its age for sure, and there has been little done by E1 to improve it, but it's often quite clear. The main problem is scratching and dust due to age, but there are few transfer errors to be found. The sound is also fine though, in mono, there's not a lot to say. There is little hiss and the dialog generally comes through clearly. Aside from the aforementioned bonus episode, the only extra is Stanwyck's 1961 Emmy Awards acceptance speech, which is cool to see.
Barbara Stanwyck fans will find her short-lived television program well worth watching. It's by no means perfect -- there's plenty of variance in quality from episode to episode -- but any Barbara Stanwyck is a good thing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 390 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode