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Choosing film clips from someone's career is a very exacting task if
you want to show the actress at their very best.
Unfortunately, although this has a nice narration by Sally Field and shows a good many Stanwyck clips, it concentrates too heavily on the melodramatic overwrought roles the actress specialized in for a long period of time from the late '30s to late '50s, with only a few clips showing her work as a comedienne.
I would have preferred a more generous sampling that showed the breadth of her talent. There are plenty of vintage Stanwyck clips here, but most of them have her screaming madly as the victim of abuse or dishing out plenty of physical punishment to the men who co-starred with her.
Interesting commentary, but the clips could have been better.
Fire and Desire captures the range of acting by one of, if not the best, brilliant actresses ever. Barbara Stanwyck was not afraid to show emotion, whether it was to cry or to act tough, and had a wry sense of humor in some parts she played. But whatever she played, she gave 110%. She also did most of her own stunts, even in The Big Valley, even though she had a bad back. Ms. Stanwyck was one-of-a-kind of which there was no equal, nor ever will be matched by anyone. She took an otherwise (sometimes) droll script and made it superb. She knew exactly when to yell out her lines, or when to whisper to get the point across. She may have been short in stature, but she was a strong presence. We should all be glad she found her way to Hollywood and Hollywood found her. Fire and Desire did a fine job of showing Barbara Stanwyck's many talents as an actress. Hopefully, there will be another special forthcoming about her for the next generation to see so they can watch her movies and tv shows and see what they missed, but which I had the pleasure to see (some of) first-hand.
Normally I like Richard Schickel's many contributions to classic film.
In Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire, made in 1991, he looks at the
career of this wonderful actress and strong woman. The result is a
Sally Field hosted the documentary, but there were no interviews about Stanwyck by people who knew or worked with her. Therefore, all the viewer saw were clips of Stanwyck's performances. It seemed that all the high drama was lumped together and then all the comedy was lumped together, rather than showing her versatility by mixing the two. Though Stanwyck's vulnerability was discussed, between her anger and screaming in the clips, we didn't get to see much of it. There was more than one scene from my least favorite of her films, Sorry, Wrong Number, a film in which she is way over the top. I don't blame her; I blame the director. The documentary could have used some clips of Stanwyck during moments of softness - for instance, from Ever in My Heart, or that wonderful moment when she sees Gary Cooper for the first time in Meet John Doe, or a section from Remember the Night.
The program also failed to address the issue of female stars aging when discussing her films in the '50s, some of which were done on the cheap, and why she went into television. And it would have been lovely to show her short speech when she was given an award by the American Film Institute.
In short, Stanwyck got short shrift here just as she did on so many Academy Award nights. Rather than watch this documentary, see her films - all the way through, not just the parts where she was crying or screaming.
Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire (1991)
*** (out of 4)
Richard Schickel directed documentary takes a look at the life and career of Stanwyck who seemed to mirror many of her famous roles. This doc runs under an hour and tries to reach as many subjects as possible and does a decent job but a longer piece would certainly be better. Schickel makes an interesting commentary about Stanwyck having three periods of her career and all of these periods were exploitation by the studio due to certain things that were happening in her personal life. Sally Fields narrates.
A biography celebrating the acting career of Barbara Stanwyck is a very good thing. After all, she was a really great actress and dominated the theaters in the 1930s and 40s. And, the list of her great films is mighty impressive, such as "Meet John Doe", "Double Indemnity" and "Lady Eve". Unfortunately, while this Turner Classic Movies produced film is pretty good, it also is a bit sloppy. Too often, the film tried to make statements about her career but to make their point, the often showed films out of sequence or used examples from the wrong decade. The casual fan might not notice this, but insane film buffs (and I definitely count myself as one) will notice these inconsistencies. I really think instead of trying to lump her pictures into categories that represented her work from a particular period in her career, they should have just done everything sequentially--and not tried to create artificial categories. As for the narration, Sally Field was especially good for this sort of film--and seemed to have been touched by Stanwyck's work. Worth seeing.
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