Monday, May 12, 2014

Double Stanwyck

In the mood for some good ol' black & white, we queued up the Barbara Stanwyck double-bill To Please a Lady/Jeopardy (1950/1953).

To Please a Lady is a racing film, so maybe we can view it as a follow-up to Rush. Stanwyck is a hard-bitten journalist/gossip columnist who talks fast, smokes a lot and doesn't give a damn about anything but selling magazines. She covers a race where driver Clark Gable is involved in an accident that kills the other driver. She sensationalizes this in her article, putting Gable out of work, sending him to the midget racing circuit. Of course, you know that they will fall in love and he will win the Indy 500.

I liked this a lot - everyone talked really fast and used a lot of dated slang: the journalists, the race announcers, the drivers. Except Gable; his steady drawl showed that he was a different kind of man. All the fast talking somehow gave me the idea that this was a screwball comedy, except not funny. So, screwball drama?

Jeopardy was a different thing - a small scale almost-noir. I first heard of it through Kim Morgan's blog. It was directed by John Sturges (Magnificent Seven, Great Escape) almost like a poverty-row B-movie: small cast, few locations, simple script. It starts with Stanwyck, her husband Barry Sullivan and little son going on a camping trip in Mexico. They set up in a deserted cove miles away from anything and send their son off to play on the rickety abandoned pier, or "peligro" as they say in Spanish. Really, through the whole setup, we're wondering how clueless these guys are, just cruising around Mexico, letting the kid play with the handgun Sullivan brought for protection, etc. Think they might get into trouble?

Yep. Sullivan gets trapped under the pier with the tide rising and Babs takes off looking for help. They leave the boy on the beach to play with fire and sharp objects. Stanwyck runs into Ralph Meeker, an escaped murderer, who might help out if she makes it worthwhile (if you take my meaning). (And I think you do.)

Actually, after the clueless family, Meeker is a breath of fresh air. He may be an nasty individual, but he at least seems moderately competent, and kind of fun. I'll let you find out whether he takes off with Stanwyck or not.

Jeopardy is a little known noir gem that has been getting some recognition, but you know, I really liked To Please a Lady better. It didn't make a lot of sense but it sure had style - and midget racing.

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