When Judge Daryl Loomis gets his own show, he wants to feature Lee Marvin in every episode.
Our review of The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Volume 2, published June 30th, 2010, is also available.
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.
Facts of the Case
• "House in Order"
• "The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan"
• "The Secret of Mrs. Randall"
• "Ironbark's Bride"
• "Pilot Episode"
• "Night Visitor"
• "Size 10"
• "Dear Charlie"
• "Dragon by the Tail"
• "Big Career"
• "Along the Barbary Coast"
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
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