The films in Kino Lorber’s new Barbara Stanwyck box set might not be the biggest of her career, but they do show off her range (and Alfred Santell’s Internes Can’t Take Money is genuinely excellent).
Stanwyck stars in the film as a mother trying to find her daughter. Her husband took her away because he didn’t want Janet (Stanwyck) turning him into the police. But now that he’s been killed during a bank robbery, she is hoping the man who got away (Stanley Ridges) might have some answers.
One plot point the movie doesn’t dwell on too much is Janet was in prison herself recently. Her only crime was keeping her mouth shut, but she got sent away for two years and much of the urgency around finding her daughter is amplified by the fact that she didn’t get to start looking for her sooner. All of Janet’s focus is on getting her daughter back, and the film also has to juggle Joel McCrea’s Dr. Kildare, so there really isn’t any time to address what Janet went through or how she’s adjusting to life after prison. It’s because of the Kildare character that the film even exists. McCrea never played him again, but Lew Ayres did in a series of movies based on Max Brand’s Kildare stories. Julia’s Lloyd Nolan is terrific as a gangster Kildare treats who becomes very protective of him, but mostly Kildare and his doctor colleagues take up time that would be better spent on Janet.
Film historian Dr. Eloise Ross provides the commentary track and her observations are incredibly specific. Some commentators forget the visual component of a commentary. But Ross always brings the conversation back around to what’s happening on-screen, like drawing attention to the lighting and the camera movements and how every detail lines up in a scene where it’s raining — from the sound design to the wetness of Stanwyck’s hat and coat.
William A. Wellman’s The Great Man’s Lady has Stanwyck wearing old age makeup to play Hannah Sempler through the years. The idea of the film is to unpack the saying “behind every great man is a great woman.” When the film begins, Hannah is 100 and trying to shake off reporters who want to know if she was involved with Senator Ethan Hoyt (McCrea). It’s not until a biographer (Katharine Stevens) starts asking questions that Hannah tells her side of the story (via flashback). It’s an odd film because, as Ross touches on in her commentary track, as much as the film shows Hoyt’s flaws, it also covers for them (whereas Brian Donlevy’s character, Steely, is criticized for less), and as much as Hannah’s contributions are acknowledged, the film ends with Hoyt’s biographer deciding not to go through with the book because, like Hannah, she believes Hannah’s role should be kept a secret. The other thing is Victor Young‘s music, which is fine overall, but totally misses the mark during a critical scene.
Unlike the other two films in this collection, Irving Pichel’s The Bride Wore Boots feels more weighted towards Robert Cummings than Stanwyck. Sally (Stanwyck) and Jeff (Cummings) are married, but never had much in common. She loves horses, he studies history (specifically Confederate history). They finally decide to get a divorce, setting the stage for an eventual reunion. And even though it’s only a matter of time before they get back together, the film saddles them with romantic rivals right away. More time is spent on Mary Lou (Diana Lyn) than Lance (Patric Knowles), and unlike Donlevy in The Great Man’s Lady, neither is a serious contender. It’s a pleasant enough film, and the horse race at the end is funny, but one thing’s for sure: films have come a long way in showing how children deal with divorce. When Sally and Jeff’s kids aren’t being used as pawns, they’re intentionally made to feel sick by Sally’s mother (Peggy Wood).
The Barbara Stanwyck Collection is available now on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.