Judge Ben Saylor doesn't truck with folks pushing toy robots around.
A MAN…A WOMAN…A TEMPTATION…meet in the dangerous years of life!
Following Warner Home Video's release of The Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection in 2007, Universal is getting into the act with The Barbara Stanwyck Collection, which is being released as part of the studio's Backlot series. Not only does the set showcase a terrific actress in Stanwyck, but it also contains the first film appearance of popular TV/film character Dr. Kildare in Internes Can't Take Money, as well as two films by melodrama master Douglas Sirk: All I Desire and There's Always Tomorrow.
Facts of the Case
Internes Can't Take Money: Janet Haley (Barbara Stanwyck, The Furies) can't catch a break. Recently released from jail after serving time on an unjust accessory rap, all she wants now is to find the young daughter her crook husband stashed away before he died. After several dead ends, she meets an oily gangster, Innes (Stanley Ridges), who says he can help find the girl-for a price. Ultimately, it will be up to idealistic physician Jimmie Kildare (Joel McCrea, Ride the High Country) to save Janet from Innes' clutches.
The Great Man's Lady: A statue is unveiled of Ethan Hoyt (McCrea), a pioneer who founded Hoyt City and served in the U.S. Senate. But the story all the reporters are after concerns one Hannah Sempler (Stanwyck). It seems that when Hoyt was near death, he came to Sempler's house to spend his final hours. What is Sempler's connection to Hoyt? The story she tells, given to a desperate young biographer (Katherine Stevens), spans several decades of American expansion, turmoil, and change.
The Bride Wore Boots: Civil War historian Jeff Warren (Robert Cummings, Saboteur) can't stand horses, which is unfortunate, since his wife Sally (Stanwyck) breeds them for a living. For her part, Sally can't stand the attention paid to Jeff by members of Civil War societies—particularly when said members are as young and attractive as Mary Lou Medford (Diana Lynn). Will their clashing vocations tear their marriage asunder?
The Lady Gambles: On a trip to Vegas with her husband David (Robert Preston, The Music Man), Joan Booth (Stanwyck) decides to try her hand at a little gambling. But what starts as a curiosity soon grows into a full-blown addiction. Can David stop her before it's too late?
All I Desire: Once a big-time actress, Naomi Murdoch (Stanwyck) now ekes out a living in vaudeville. One evening, she gets a letter from her teenaged daughter Lily (Lori Nelson), asking her to come see her in a school production. Impulsively, Naomi accepts her daughter's invitation, returning to the bucolic small town and family she abandoned years ago. Naomi's surprise visit upends the entire family, leaving her to wonder whether she should have just stayed away.
There's Always Tomorrow: Successful toy manufacturer Cliff Groves (Fred MacMurray, The Caine Mutiny) feels increasingly marginalized at home by his distant, distracted wife (Joan Bennett, Suspiria) and spoiled children. When former colleague Norma Miller (Stanwyck) shows up on his doorstep one night, the two renew their friendship, leading Cliff to consider an exciting new life with the revitalizing Norma.
The Barbara Stanwyck Collection is an eclectic group of films that does a great job of showing Stanwyck's versatility and range. The set starts off well with Internes Can't Take Money. The film's pulpy and sometimes-silly script (based on a story by Max Brand) is well shot by director Alfred Santell and d.p. Theodor Sparkuhl, and the film's 78 minutes go by quickly. The character of Kildare went on to appear in a series of MGM films starring Lew Ayres and a TV show with Richard Chamberlain, but top-billed Stanwyck is the star of the show in Internes Can't Take Money, and she gives a strong performance that conveys her character's toughness, desperation and vulnerability. McCrea is fine in an uncomplicated heroic role, while Stanley Ridges is memorable as the slow-talking, popcorn-munching Innes.
The Great Man's Lady re-teams Stanwyck and McCrea in an epic that crams many decades of its characters' lives into 90 minutes. And while the conceit of demythologizing the godlike figure of Ethan Hoyt into something more closely resembling a human being is not without interest, director William Wellman's execution leaves something to be desired. Hoyt, who is so admired by the characters in the movie, is absent for long stretches, and we rarely see him do anything remarkable. Brian Donlevy is in the mix as Steely Edwards, a gambler who carries a torch for Hannah and follows her everywhere. Donlevy is charming as Steely, but the character only seems to be in the narrative to help fill in time between Hoyt's frequent absences. All in all, despite a sturdy lead performance by Stanwyck that requires her to be aged many decades, The Great Man's Lady is one of the set's less successful films.
The Bride Wore Boots is a somewhat enjoyable but very forgettable romantic comedy. Stanwyck is more of the "straight man" here compared to Robert Cummings and his flustered mugging. Although the pair coaxes some laughs out of the material, most of the humor falls flat, particularly the beyond-corny horse race finale. It's worth noting that Natalie Wood makes one of her earliest film appearances in Boots as one of the Warrens' children. If you're looking for this sort of thing with Stanwyck, watch Ball of Fire or Christmas in Connecticut instead.
The set takes a considerably darker turn with The Lady Gambles, which opens with Stanwyck's Joan receiving a savage beating for shooting crap with loaded dice. In the film, Stanwyck is simply mesmerizing as a woman utterly consumed by gambling. Through her performance, we see the giddy, reckless thrill of betting (and frequently losing) large sums of money. Roy Huggins' screenplay carefully and deliberately traces Joan's descent into addiction; she starts out playing with fake chips, but before long she's gambling her husband's expense money, telling lies to cover for her all-night poker sessions and even breaking into a lock box to get cash.
The Lady Gambles is not without its flaws, however. The framing device of having Joan's husband tell her story to a physician treating her feels creaky, as does the tacked-on psychological explanation for Joan's addiction. Worse, it all culminates in a hysterical, ridiculous hospital scene that leads into an improbably happy ending.
Arguably the most interesting films on the set are on the third disc, which contains Douglas Sirk's All I Desire and There's Always Tomorrow. The former, despite being hampered to a degree by an abrupt, producer-mandated happy ending, is nonetheless an absorbing melodrama buoyed by Stanwyck's stellar lead performance. As written, Naomi Murdoch is a well-rounded and compelling character; she's impetuous when deciding to come see Lily's show, wistful when watching Lily perform and tough-as-nails when sparring with daughter Joyce. Sirk gets a lot of mileage out of the different ways Naomi's homecoming affects the family, particularly Henry (Richard Carlson, Creature from the Black Lagoon), the husband she left behind.
All I Desire lacks the vibrant Technicolor palette of Sirk films such as All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, but the film nonetheless bears the filmmaker's stamp. There are plenty of Sirk's beloved mirror and frame-within-frame shots; in the case of the latter, the director is particularly adept at framing his compositions so that the viewer sees into multiple doors/windows of the Murdoch home at once. A lot of the time, the view is of someone on the outside (frequently Naomi) looking in, like when she approaches the house the first night she's back. Sirk also uses the house's interiors, particularly a staircase, to great effect.
Ironically, the best film in this set contains the smallest Stanwyck role. There's Always Tomorrow is really Fred MacMurray's film, and he's excellent as the suburban dad who feels trapped in his existence and seemingly finds a way out, only to find the door abruptly slammed in his face. At first glance, There's Always Tomorrow seems to end happily, with MacMurray's Cliff strolling off with wife, with his children looking on with newfound admiration. But Sirk also includes a shot of Stanwyck's Norma quietly sobbing on the plane back to New York, which Cliff watches wistfully in the night sky. And don't forget the deceptively optimistic title; for Cliff and Norma, there is no tomorrow.
The Barbara Stanwyck Collection allocates two films to a disc. The black and white transfers all look strong, and the Dolby audio tracks are similarly fine. Unfortunately, in the case of Tomorrow, Universal has released the film in full frame format instead of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in which it was, according to the IMDb, filmed. For a director who paid as much attention to framing and shot composition as Sirk, this is hugely disappointing. For extras, there are only trailers for The Great Man's Lady and All I Desire.
Stanwyck completists will want to get The Barbara Stanwyck Collection, which provides bountiful evidence of the actress' talent in a wide range of roles. On the strength of the Sirk films, I would have recommended this set to non-Stanwyck diehards but for the transfer error in There's Always Tomorrow. Still, the majority of these films are worth checking out.
Not guilty, although Universal is sentenced to dance the "bunny hug" until it releases There's Always Tomorrow in its OAR.
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Scales of Justice, Internes Can't Take Money
Perp Profile, Internes Can't Take Money
Distinguishing Marks, Internes Can't Take Money
Scales of Justice, The Great Man's Lady
Perp Profile, The Great Man's Lady
Distinguishing Marks, The Great Man's Lady
Scales of Justice, The Bride Wore Boots
Perp Profile, The Bride Wore Boots
Distinguishing Marks, The Bride Wore Boots
Scales of Justice, The Lady Gambles
Perp Profile, The Lady Gambles
Distinguishing Marks, The Lady Gambles
Scales of Justice, All I Desire
Perp Profile, All I Desire
Distinguishing Marks, All I Desire
Scales of Justice, There's Always Tomorrow
Perp Profile, There's Always Tomorrow
Distinguishing Marks, There's Always Tomorrow
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