Blu-ray Review: Barbara Stanwyck Collection (Internes Can’t Take Money/The Great Man’s Lady/The Bride Wore Boots) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, June 4th, 2020  

Barbara Stanwyck Collection (Internes Can’t Take Money/The Great Man’s Lady/The Bride Wore Boots

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

May 19, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Barbara Stanwyck starred in 84 films over a nearly 40 year period beginning in the late 1920s through the mid-1960s. Her hits spanned a number of genres from noir (Double Indemnity) to comedy (The Lady Eve) to drama (Stella Dallas) to thriller (Sorry, Wrong Number) to western (The Furies). The new Barbara Stanwyck 3-film collection from Kino Lorber explores some of her lesser known films, although they are connected by little more than the fact that they were all distributed by Paramount.

First up is the 1937 drama Internes Can’t Take Money. Although the film gives Stanwyck a meaty role as a former gangster’s moll searching for her missing daughter, the protagonist of the film is Joel McCrea as the intrepid Dr. James Kildare. Kildare was a character created by author Max Brand who would go on to be played by Lew Ayres in a series of films and radio programs throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Internes Can’t Take Money marks the first adaptation of his adventures. The modern glut of television procedurals starring cops, lawyers and doctors was mirrored in the studio programmers of the Hollywood Golden Age, especially with regards to cops and lawyers. Films about brave, crusading doctors were rarer, for reasons this film and its awkward title make clear. Kildare makes $10 a week, plus room and board, a modest sum even by Depression-era standards. The film portrays doctors as unappreciated servants of humanity, similar to the way we think of public school teachers today. It’s odd from a modern perspective, where doctors are well-paid and respected. Beyond a lack of appreciation, this film makes it seem like the general public has no idea what doctors do at all. When Kildare saves a local mob boss from a bad knife wound, the observing goons react to him as though he’s a wizard casting spells. It’s very strange.

Stanwyck acquits herself well in an archetype she played often, specifically the nobly suffering mother. She would be nominated for an Oscar this same year for her most famous variation on this character in Stella Dallas. Even while conveying heartbreak and despair as she searches the faces of cherubic orphans for her missing daughter, Stanwyck still finds space for her signature earnest charm and brassy sweetness. Director Alfred Santell shows his work, opening with a long tracking shot through a busy medical clinic, but pacing overall is a bit stiff and the two halves of the plot never really come together in a satisfying way.

The second film in the set is the 1942 western/drama/fake biopic mash-up, The Great Man’s Lady, which re-teams McCrea and Stanwyck as a pioneer turned politician who founds the fictional Hoyt City and his determined, loyal wife. This is probably the most interesting of the films in the set, featuring a framing device where Stanwyck is made up to look like a 109 year old woman telling her life story to a biographer. The old age makeup is surprisingly convincing for the time and Stanwyck gives a credible physical performance as an extremely elderly woman, although her voice still sounds like that of a thirty five year old.

Whoever thought Stanwyck and McCrea had enough chemistry to carry multiple movies was sorely mistaken. Both actors are at their best when given a bit of snark to work with and The Great Man’s Lady is deeply earnest in its execution but not substantial enough to live up to its lofty narrative and thematic ambitions. Cramming decades worth of plot and a sweeping life story into a ninety minute script results in confusing edits where years pass in moments and characters appear and disappear without mention. The film is trying to deconstruct the great man myth in a similar fashion to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, albeit from the perspective of the wife character, but none of the film’s admirable thematic interests are given room to breathe amid the quickly moving plot, much of which is wasted on a undercooked love triangle.

Stanwyck still acquits herself well, slaying a series of late 1800s gowns and playing one brutal scene almost entirely with her back to the camera before unleashing her signature emotional eruption. Legendary William Wellman composes some gorgeous outdoor shots but needed another hour of runtime and a stronger script to make this work.

Last and absolutely least is the 1946 divorce comedy The Bride Wore Boots. Stanwyck and Robert Cummings star as an outdoorsy ranch heiress and a prickly history professor who decide to get divorced after realizing they have nothing in common. The script is lame, the direction indifferent and the characters insufferable. Stanwyck’s participation in the film feels wholly based on the fact that she got to ride horses - Stanwyck was an avid horse rider and owner in real life. Listless and dull as a comedy, the film is further risible thanks to a weird undercurrent of racism. Cummings’ is a scholar of Confederate history and is thrilled to be given the desk of Jefferson Davis as a gift early in the film. The less said about the film’s treatment of the African American ranch hand and maid characters, the better.

Stanwyck was one of the greatest actresses of her generation and brought charm and passion to even her worst films, but this boxset would be difficult to recommend to anyone other than her most ardent fans.



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