Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck: “Clash by Night” (1952)


Ambitious.  Selfish. The desire to control not only her fate, but also the one who will help her get what she wants. But when the day comes when that person is close to losing everything for a man whom she has just clashed by night… will she do what her heart says or that of her calculated and cynical mind?

Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) arrives in a little fish town that she had left ten years before. Her good looks and beautiful face make her believe that she can control any rich man in town whenever she wants. She is partially right… When she meets a local wealthy man, Jerry (Paul Douglas) who happens to be the boss of her brother Joe (Keith Andes), Mae considers changing her modern life style.  When a fisherman finally proposes to Mae, she agrees to marry him, and soon after becomes a mother. Becoming restless and unhappy with her marriage, Mae falls for Jerry`s friend, Earl (Robert Ryan).


Clash by Night is one of those special classic films that must be seen by those who seek a deeper meaning from a simple plot. First of all, the dialogues, as it usually was during the Golden Age of Hollywood, is written very wise, flawless, and sometimes, hilarious. However, Fritz Lang`s film is not a comedy at all. Every scene in this film is unique and incomparable. For instance, when we find Mae Doyle looking outside of her window towards the ocean, we see her quiet and calm without saying a single word, while surging waves hitting the rocks below tells us otherwise.  That scene for black-and-white movie lovers, is a feast for the eyes. This is why Lang`s film is so special, because he manages to add this or that scene in order to convey the feelings of its heroes.

Lang`s film will attract the attention, especially those who admire Marilyn Monroe; whose role of Peggy was her first major role in a film, and she does it well. Monroe`s Peggy is a very simple country girl, whose love for Joe is pure and innocent. However, her eyes become wide open when Mae appears with her very different vision and perspective on life which puts Peggy and Joe’s uneventful lives in danger. Barbara Stanwyck, as usual, delivers an outstanding performance, proving once again that she, as no one else, knows how to portray a troubled women. Her ability to understand the character she plays and to put herself into the shoes of her heroine, is truly fascinating.

In conclusion, Clash by Night will not disappoint anyone who is familiar with Flitz Lang`s films, such as Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, with Joan Fontaine. Lang`s film is sad, moving, and quite educational. It shows us the importance of ‘having a bird in the hand is better than having two in the bush’ – and it`s better to realize this sooner than later.

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