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Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck at TIFF Bell Light Box


There are not many actors whose appearance in a film will make you hurry to your TV-set and wait with great anticipation for the opening scene. Every one of us might name a hundred or even just ten such names. But, there is one particular actor who, I am sure, will most probably be on your short list. Firstly, this actress does not need a special introduction. Secondly, she’s someone, who always made smart choices to play characters that would become timeless. Her name sounds stronger than a thunderstorm and destructive for those, who could never achieve what was achieved by this beautiful, talented, charming lady with an equally beautiful name – Barbara Stanwyck.

Barbara Stanwyck won Golden Globes Award twice. She is a three-time Primetime Emmy winner, received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1987. Among leading European film festivals, Stanwyck won Special Jury Prize at Venice IFF in 1954 for ensemble acting in Robert Wise’s “Executive Suite”. There are so many awards, that I won’t be able to mention all of them. However, despite her unique powerful performances and 4 nominations, Barbara Stanwyck has never won a single Oscar. Only in 1982 AMPAS (Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) finally recognized Stanwyck’s tremendous contribution to the Golden Era of Hollywood and rewarded her with an Honorary Award for superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting. This legacy has successfully passed from one generation to another, and reached us.  Barbara Stanwyck and names of many others will undoubtedly live forever, as long as there is the art of motion pictures.

On this note, TIFF brings back to life Stanwyck’s films, and presents another retrospective – “Ball Of Fire: The Films of BARBARA STANWYCK”. What could be better than watching Stanwyck’s timeless films on the big screen; making yourself comfortable, while you become a part of “Night Nurse (1931) or “Stella Dallas” (which according to Stanwyck is her favorite role). Travelling back in time, with the great help of TIFF Bell Light Box, you can imagine yourself as any of Stanwyck’s characters, as you witness how she becomes Lady Eve or the woman from “Sorry, Wrong Number who figures out that a murderer is coming, but has no idea how to prevent it. Having huge and versatile roles, Stanwyck manages to play all of them as if she was actually the character herself.

How did Stanwyck become a legend? What made her pick the roles she played? Why mostly sad ones? Is it because of her talent or the hardship she went through before becoming an actress? I have no intention of bringing something up here that will complicate this piece that I’m writing. The mystery can be easily resolved by watching Stanwyck’s retrospective at TIFF Bell Light Box, which begins on Feb 7 with the film “Night Nurse”, where Stanwyck shares screen with Clark Gable and ends on April 4, with the screening of “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”. The complete schedule can be found below or by clicking on this link:

Ball Of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck runs from February 7 to April 4.

1. Night Nurse

Dir. William A. Wellman | USA 1931 | 72 min. | PG 35mm

Barbara Stanwyck plays a wisecracking private nurse who sets out to save two endangered children from a villainous chauffeur (Clark Gable!), in this racy, hard-boiled pre-Code mystery from the great William Wellman.

Saturday, February 7 at 3:30 p.m.

 2. Stella Dallas

Dir. King Vidor | USA 1937 | 108 min. | G 35mm

As the fiercely determined working-class gal who marries up but is rejected for her gauche behavior, Barbara Stanwyck found a part tailored to her mastery of combining the vulgar and the vulnerable.

Sunday, February 8 at 3:45 p.m.

 3. Ball of Fire 

Archival Print!

Dir. Howard Hawks | USA 1941 | 112 min. | G 35mm

Stanwyck was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as a slang-spouting, booty-shaking stripper who entrances a bookish bachelor academic (Gary Cooper) when she holes up at his house while on the lam from the law.

Thursday, February 12 at 9 p.m.

4. Double Indemnity

Restored Digital Presentation!

Dir. Billy Wilder | USA 1944 | 107 min. | PG Digital

A seductive and scary Stanwyck entered film noir history as homicidal housewife Phyllis Dietrichson, in Billy Wilder’s classic adaptation of the notorious James M. Cain novella.
Saturday, February 21 at 3:30 p.m. 

5. Remember the Night

Dir. Mitchell Leisen | USA 1940 | 86 min. | PG 35mm

A stylish Manhattan thief (Barbara Stanwyck) reveals her true-blue Hoosier heart when she unexpectedly ends up home for the holidays with the assistant DA who prosecuted her (Fred MacMurray).
Sunday, February 22 at 3:15 p.m.

6. The Lady Eve

Dir. Preston Sturges | USA 1941 | 94 min. | PG Digital

Preston Sturges’ supernal summit of screwball comedy gave Stanwyck one of her most deluxe roles as a con artist who sets out to bilk a clueless millionaire bachelor (Henry Fonda).
Saturday, February 28 at 8 p.m.

7. Meet John Doe

Archival Print!

Dir. Frank Capra | USA 1941 | 122 min. | G 35mm

A fast-talking reporter (Barbara Stanwyck) recruits a vagrant (Gary Cooper) to play the part of a fictional Everyman whose protests against social injustice have electrified the country, in Frank Capra’s ambitious anti-fascist fable.

Tuesday, March 3 at 6:15 p.m.

8. The Furies

Archival Print!

Dir. Anthony Mann | USA 1950 | 109 min. | PG 16mm

Stanwyck sears the screen as the firebrand daughter of a Wild West cattle baron, in Anthony Mann’s wild noir-western-psychodrama.

Friday, March 6 at 8:45 p.m.

9. The File on Thelma Jordon

Dir. Robert Siodmak | USA 1950 | 100 min. | 14A 35mm

A steely femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) entices an unhappily married assistant DA into her murderous schemes, in this noir classic by Robert Siodmak.
Saturday, March 7 at 1:30 p.m.

10. Sorry, Wrong Number

Dir. Anatole Litvak | USA 1948 | 89 min. | PG Digital

A domineering, bedridden Manhattan heiress (Barbara Stanwyck) overhears a plot to murder an unnamed woman, in this nerve-shredding suspense classic that earnedStanwyck another Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m.

11. Forty Guns

Dir. Samuel Fuller | USA 1957 | 80 min. | PG Digital

Barbara Stanwyck stars as a leather-clad, whip-wielding cattle baroness in Sam Fuller’s deliriously sexualized western.

Sunday, March 8 at 1:30 p.m.

12. Baby Face

Archival Print!

Dir. Alfred E. Green | USA 1933 | 71 min. | 14A 35mm

The recently rediscovered uncensored version of this pre-Code barn-burner has been celebrated as “one of the most stunningly sordid films ever made.”

Tuesday, March 10 at 6:45 p.m.

 13. Clash by Night

Dir. Fritz Lang | USA 1952 | 105 min. | PG 35mm

Stanwyck stars opposite Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe (in her first major role) in Fritz Lang’s noir-ish tale of adultery and vengeance.

Sunday, March 15 at 6 p.m.

14. All I Desire

Dir. Douglas Sirk | USA 1953 | 79 min. | PG 35mm

Stanwyck stars in this first of director Douglas Sirk’s magnificent woman-centered melodramas, as an itinerant actress who returns to her hometown — and the husband, lover, and children she left behind — ten years after running off to seek stardom on the stage.

Friday, March 20 at 6:30 p.m.

15. There’s Always Tomorrow 

Dir. Douglas Sirk | USA 1955 | 84 min. | PG 35mm

An underappreciated family man (Fred MacMurray) gets one last chance at happiness with an old flame (Barbara Stanwyck), in this moving, lesser-known masterpiece by Douglas Sirk.
Saturday, March 21 at 6:30 p.m.
16. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Archival Print!

Dir. Lewis Milestone | USA 1946 | 116 min. | 14A 35mm

A hard-bitten small-town businesswoman (Barbara Stanwyck) is bound by a dark secret to the weak-willed husband she hates (Kirk Douglas, in his screen debut), in this twisted little noir by director Lewis Milestone.

Sunday, March 22 at 3:30 p.m.

17. Walk on the Wild Side

Dir. Edward Dmytryk | USA 1962 | 114 min. | R 35mm

Stanwyck memorably plays the crypto-lesbian madam of a New Orleans brothel in this lurid melodrama adapted from the Nelson Algren best-seller.

Saturday, March 28 at 1 p.m.

18. The Miracle Woman

Dir. Frank Capra | USA 1931 | 90 min. | PG Digital

A phony faith healer (Barbara Stanwyck) becomes a star on the evangelical circuit, in Frank Capra’s amazing critique of God-besotted, Depression-era America.

Sunday, March 29 at 1 p.m.

19. The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Dir. Frank Capra | USA 1933 | 89 min. | PG Digital

A young American woman (Barbara Stanwyck) finds herself in the clutches of a cultured Chinese warlord, in Frank Capra’s strange and entrancing classic of Orientalist exoticism.
Saturday, April 4 at 3:45 p.m.

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