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MONDAY - Baby Face: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck

Programmed by: Deany Cheng

Few actors then or now have been able to put together a career as eclectic as Barbara Stanwyck’s. Growing up orphaned and starting out as a Ziegfeld girl and on Broadway before heading out west, she would become one of the great institutions of the then-nascent motion picture business, and was at one point the highest-paid star in all of Hollywood. While perhaps best-known today for her lead turns in Double Indemnity and The Lady Eve, Stanwyck was one of the most prolific and versatile stars of her time, successfully adapting her distinct, hard-boiled persona across the pre-Code, Code, and post-Code eras of Hollywood cinema. Her career is then in its way a palimpsest through which we can trace the early days of an American film industry that was still coming into its own: A dictionary for cinema before cinema had defined itself.

This selection of seven lesser-seen films (many in 35mm) from her oeuvre is an attempt to capture that breadth, featuring movies from all different directors (including luminaries like Frank Capra, Douglas Sirk, and Samuel Fuller) across three decades. Covering risqué pre-Code turns (Ladies of Leisure, Baby Face), top-flight dramas (Stella Dallas, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, All I Desire), and genre fare from the bitter to the sweet (Sorry, Wrong Number, Forty Guns), this series is a celebration of one of cinema’s most important and enduring figures.

7:00PM Monday, January 9th

Ladies of Leisure (1930) still

Ladies of Leisure (1930)

Frank Capra · 99m · 35mm

It’s difficult to believe that Barbara Stanwyck was only 23 when she starred in Ladies of Leisure, as she brings a worldly assuredness to Kay, a gold-digging party girl who enters a relationship of convenience with an artistic scion (Lowell Sherman) that soon turns into something more. A risqué pre-Code outing with heart to spare, the mature romance was the first of five creative collaborations between Stanwyck and the great Frank Capra.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Monday, January 23rd

Baby Face (1933) still

Baby Face (1933)

Alfred E. Green · 76m · 35mm

In perhaps her finest pre-Code turn, Barbara Stanwyck plays a daughter of a speakeasy owner who is inspired by Nietzsche to sleep her way to the top; and yes, the film is as eyebrow-raising as that logline sounds. Cited as one of the films whose edginess brought about the Hays Code, Baby Face is as delightful as it is important to Hollywood history. Keep your eye out too for John Wayne(!) in a pre-stardom role as one of Stanwyck's conquests.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Monday, January 30th

Stella Dallas (1937) still

Stella Dallas (1937)

King Vidor · 106m · 35mm

Barbara Stanwyck earned her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress with this breathlessly melodramatic weepie about a brassy but affectionate mother who goes to heartbreaking extremes to build a better life for her beloved daughter. King Vidor's Stella Dallas is perhaps Stanwyck’s best classical acting showcase: a sizzle reel for her keen ability to bring a distinct naturalism to the heightened reality of Hollywood cinema at the time.

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Monday, February 6th

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) still

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Lewis Milestone · 116m · 35mm

When an unhappily married couple—played by Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas (in his first film!)—reunites with their childhood friend (Van Heflin) with whom they share a terrible secret, drama ensues, in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. One of a string of darker antiheroine roles Stanwyck took on after the success of Double Indemnity, the film shows her comfort with morally ambiguous characters, which was unique among megastars at the time.

Preserved by the Library of Congress.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Monday, February 13th

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) still

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Anatole Litvak · 89m · 35mm

One of the bigger injustices of Oscars history is that Barbara Stanwyck never won a competitive Academy Award, with Sorry, Wrong Number netting her fourth and final Best Actress nomination. Playing a bedridden woman who is pulled into conspiracy after she overhears a murder plot over the telephone, Stanwyck (acting opposite fellow legend Burt Lancaster) mustered up every inch of Hollywood hysteria she could in this film noir curiosity.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Monday, February 20th

All I Desire (1953) still

All I Desire (1953)

Douglas Sirk · 80m · DCP

The first of two collaborations between Barbara Stanwyck and the master of the domestic melodrama, Douglas Sirk himself, All I Desire is a crackerjack portrait of the simultaneous contentment and claustrophobia of American suburbia. Playing a mother who returns to the family she abandoned a decade earlier, Stanwyck brings her trademark world-weary maturity to the already-complex Sirkian woman in a perfect movie marriage of auteur and star.

Tickets can be bought here.

7:00PM Monday, February 27th

Forty Guns (1957) still

Forty Guns (1957)

Samuel Fuller · 80m · DCP

In the last of her many forays into the Western genre, Barbara Stanwyck plays authoritarian rancher Jessica Drummond in Samuel Fuller’s boldly feminist Forty Guns. Featuring gunfights and snarky dialogue galore, the film was shot in breathtaking CinemaScope and utilizes the widescreen frame to its fullest. Forty Guns (and Stanwyck’s fiery turn in it) traffics in the same jagged psychological complexity that would define much of American cinema to come.

Tickets can be bought here.