Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Stanwyck’

What works and what doesn’t?

Christmas in Connecticut has a lot going for it.  First of all, Barbara Stanwyck is funny and charming, without the “redeemable bad girl” baggage.   Which reminds me of something she said about her career:

My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen woman in a different way than my thirty-ninth.

Fortunately for us, Ms. Stanwyck always found a way to make her characters interesting.  But that said, I like the sweeter aspect of her character in Christmas in Connecticut.  Her only flaw, really, is in telling a lie that grows and gets harder to hide.  As a writer, she has created a fictional family (with baby) for herself, and in order to keep her job, she needs a fictional husband.

Cropped screenshot of Barbara Stanwyck from th...

Cropped screenshot of Barbara Stanwyck from the trailer for the film Christmas in Connecticut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problem comes when she’s roped her boring boyfriend into being the husband and Mr. Right shows up.

That’s the part that doesn’t quite work.   The audience finds Ms. Stanwyck sympathetic, and since WE know that she isn’t married, we’re rooting for her.  My problem is that the hero thinks she IS married, and he’s still flirting with her.  That’s what makes me a little uncomfortable and makes this movie less than a complete “feel good” choice.  Ideally, I’d like him to show more angst over the “I don’t want to fall for her, but I am” issue.   But that’s me:  I like some angst in my comedies.

But the movie has other strengths.   The dialogue is clever.   S. Z. Sakal is a great character actor, who plays the foreign, eccentric cook.  And Sydney Greenstreet, who was so interesting in Casablanca, plays a bossy, but pleasant magazine owner.

Overall, I like this movie, (enough to have bought a copy) , but I don’t completely love it.

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Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in It Happen...

Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in It Happened One Night (Photo credit: Lea Ann Belter Bridal)

It Happened One Night

Bringing Up Baby

The Lady Eve

The More the Merrier

Ball of Fire

My favorite screwball comedies have a fairly normal person who finds him or herself in an outrageous situation — that gets worse.  

Cover of "The More the Merrier"

Source: Amazon.com

As I was thinking about my favorite black and white movies recently, I realized that my novels are a little like screwball comedies.  I can easily imagine Jean Arthur, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert or Barbara Stanwyck  as my heroines.  And my heroes — some of them could be James Stewart, Joel McCrea, Cary Grant or Henry Fonda.  None of the screwball stories are realistic, but they are fun to watch.  It’s the same with my fiction — it’s based on reality, but there is a quirkiness to it.

So the question is — If you have read my most popular book — Who would play the leads in BABY COMES FIRST if it were made into a film?  Any actor living or dead is fair game.  So yes, Richard Armitage could play ANY of my heroes.

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Cover of "Titanic"

Cinderella had a dysfunctional family.  So do many heroes and heroines of fiction, because if everyone is kind, loving, honest, and hardworking, where’s the drama?  It can’t all be a result of acts of God and natural disasters.  Even the 1953 movie Titanic was made more interesting by a great dysfunctional marriage between Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb.

 My focus today is on Elizabeth Bennet’s dysfunctional family.  I think that’s one of the great strengths of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is an appealing character because she has to deal with her family:  an emotionally distant, ineffectual father, a shrill, self-absorbed, silly mother, an older sister who is too nice, two slightly annoying sisters who might improve with guidance, and one willful (and not too bright) youngest sister.  Part of the emotional payoff of the ending is that Elizabeth, who has been sincere but mistaken in her perceptions of the people around her, acknowledges reality and is rewarded with a happy marriage.

Persuasion may be better written, but the characters of Pride and Prejudice are universally interesting.  The 2005 film version, although visually beautiful, painted IMHO a false “sweeter/gentler” version of the Bennett family.  Donald Sutherland is fascinating as Mr. Bennet, but do we really believe that he was so gentle and loving with his exasperating wife?  I’m going to have to reread the novel to see if Jane Austen provided any textural basis for that interpretation.

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Cover of "Ball of Fire"

Cover of Ball of Fire

In Ball of Fire (1941) Barbara Stanwyck plays a gangster’s girlfriend who hides out in the group home of seven sweet, quirky men who are writing an encyclopedia.  Gary Cooper is immediately smitten with Stanwyck, but he is socially awkward and painfully innocent, while she is worldly and cynical.  Their love story is a joy to watch.  At first she finds Cooper ridiculous, but over time, his innate strength and goodness win her over.  Stanwyck is such a fine actress.  At critical moments, you can see the conflicting emotions in her face.  She wants to believe in a sweet romance, but doubts her worthiness.  Excellent viewing.

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