Essential Cinema Celebrates Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck in August


Barbara Stanwyck and David Manners in The Miracle Woman

I was overjoyed to hear that Austin Film Society has picked one of my favorite actresses as their focus next month. Tuesday evenings in August, four films that Barbara Stanwyck made before the Hays Code was in effect will be shown at AFS at the Marchesa.

These pre-code movies have attention-grabbing storylines. Unlike films produced under the code, there isn't necessarily any punishment for the naughty or driven woman. And, boy, does Stanwyck play the naughty woman well! She also portrays working-class women with aplomb.

I asked AFS programmer Lars Nilsen why he chose Stanwyck for August's theme and he told me, "The idea for the series came to me when I was rewatching Ladies They Talk About. I had seen many other Stanwyck pre-code films, but on this viewing I began just admiring everything about Stanwyck's gifts as an actress and as an especially authentic individual, even in an age that prized personal authenticity in its stars. I could feel the love that contemporaneous viewers must have felt for her in these early films... She's like a female Cagney, a little tough guy, with the advantage of glamour that she can turn on and off as it suits her. Her personal charm and character are all her own. She earned them."

The four movies in the program will be shown in 35mm.

Mexicali Rose (1929) [tickets]
Tues, Aug. 6, 7:30 pm
A rare chance to see this film, which is unavailable on DVD. I can't find much about the plot (here's the trailer), but this early talkie was Stanwyck's third film, made when she was 22. Note: this is not the Gene Autry Mexicali Rose, which was made in 1939.

Ladies They Talk About (1933) [tickets]
Tues, Aug. 13, 7:30 pm
Predates such women-in-prison narratives as Caged (and the current series Orange is the New Black). Stanwyck's Nan serves time in the pen and rises up in the ranks while there. She's a tough one! The trailer below will give you a taste of what to expect (watch for Lillian Roth):

Night Nurse (1931) [tickets]
Tues, Aug. 20, 7:30 pm
Stanwyck and Joan Blondell play women training to be nurses, dealing with the sexual harassment that hounds them throughout training and afterwards. The film also stars Clark Gable. [trailer]

The Miracle Woman (1931) [tickets]
Tues, Aug. 27, 7:30 pm
Frank Capra directs Stanwyck in this film about a female evangelist/con-artist. Released around the time faith healer Aimee Semple McPherson was a household name, the movie shows fictional Florence Fallon's journey from hucksterism to regret. This was the second film Capra and Stanwyck made together.

[Still from The Miracle Woman via Shut Up and Deal]