Below is my second entry for the ‘Universal Pictures Blogathon’ hosted by Silver Scenes. Click here to read the other posts being exhibited during this event.
Universal Pictures is a leading production company in Hollywood that are best known for their classic horror films from the 1930’s. Since being founded by Carl Laemmle in 1912, the studio has produced and distributed a myriad of notable vehicles from other genres that have now been stapled as cinematic masterpieces.
While most of their films have garnered critical acclaim, Universal has certainly had it’s share of productions that were largely panned at the box office and vanished shortly after it’s release. In most cases the final result has proved to inequitable and not up to the standard of the critics, which is erroneous, because once viewing these films you come to question why they have been unfairly dismissed.
This is the case with Barbara Stanwyck. Unlike most stars, Stanwyck was not permanently established with a particular production company. Instead she made movies with almost every studio in Hollywood, but after a few pictures she had her name linked with Universal.
Barbara Stanwyck pioneered her way through each film with her incredible versatility and astonishing screen presence, but sadly for Stanwyck this hard work and persistence did not quite pay off with Universal when her films made under the studio were not financially successful.
The first Stanwyck vehicle produced by Universal Pictures is The Lady Gambles, an emotionally charged drama from 1949 that was directed by Michael Gordon and produced by Michael Kraike with the screenplay by Lewis Meltzer and Oscar Saul.
During the years so much has been said about the films director, Michael Gordon. While he is not an eminent name from the pantheon of directors, Gordon is primarily remembered for being blacklisted as a Communist in the days of McCarthyism. Due to being blacklisted, Gordon’s career falls into two phases. After starting off as a dialogue director he climbed the ladder to working on B movies before working his way to directing action productions and Film Noir, but since the blacklisting, his days of director came to a cessation. However Ross Hunter ordered him back to Hollywood in the late 1950’s to place his directorial efforts in Pillow Talk, the romantic comedy starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Michael Gordon is part of the reason why The Lady Gambles was so unfairly dismissed on it’s release. At the time the film was made, Gordon only had five films to his credit and was not yet accustomed to working with prominent stars who had been in the entertainment industry for decades. That being said Gordon’s directing wasn’t entirely erroneous as he was able to perfectly execute a myriad of Film Noir elements into a heavy drama.
The Lady Gambles is a character study of a normal housewife from Chicago who gets swept into the abyss of gambling. Headlining this story is Barbara Stanwyck in the role of Joan Booth, the devoted fiancé of David Booth ( Robert Preston ). During a research trip to Hoover Dam the two stay at the Las Vegas Hotel, a remote resort situated next to the casino. While her husband is on assignment Joan casually enters the casino and gets introduced to gambling by Horace Corrigan ( Steven McNally ) who provides her with free chips.
As time progresses Joan decides to use her husbands expense money, which turns out to be a mistake. Not only does she lose $600, it becomes a strong impulse that ends up disastrous as Joan transforms into an extreme gambling addict and gets involved with criminals.
The Lady Gambles is a forgotten masterpiece that features Barbara Stanwyck in one of her most commendable performances of her career. As Joan Booth, Stanwyck once again disseminates her acting ability and showcases her versatility in a complex role of a distraught woman who is tortured by deep ridden guilt of killing her mother in childbirth and becomes addicted to gambling after a vacation in Las Vegas.
Barbara Stanwyck was the greatest actress to ever grace the silver screen, and that is very evident here. With her adaptability she could easily become accustomed to any role and perfectly execute any performance. Her portrayal of Joan Booth is laudable and Stanwyck with her heightened emotions delivers a fascinating metamorphosis from a supportive wife to a victim of extreme gambling obsession.
The Lady Gambles is classified as a solid drama, but it also contains many elements of Film Noir such as crime and villains. These aspects are easily identified, most notably at the start where we witness Stanwyck being beaten by a group a thugs in a darkened alleyway, which leads to hospitalization. From that moment on the film is just a series of flashbacks as Joan’s husband David reflects back on the story of Joan and how her addiction to gambling began.
From the superb cinematography, the impressive locales of Las Vegas to a stellar performance by Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Gambles will take viewers on a journey through the world of gambling and the catastrophic effects of an addict.
Hours before Howard Unruh went on a shooting rampage that eventually killed 13 people, he told police interrogators he planned his crime while watching the double feature “The Lady Gambles/”I Cheated the Law” three times in a Philadelphia theater. He claimed Barbara Stanwyck’s character reminded him of one of his intended victims. The horrendous crime took place in Camden, N.J. 6 September 1949.
Joan: “May I come in?”
Barky: “Ask a foolish question, and you get a foolish answer.”
Horace: ” [to Joan] If you’re here for the cure, maybe you and I could get together for dinner.”
Joan: “If I’m here for the what?”
Horace: “The cure – six weeks in the Nevada sunshine and you rid yourself of whatever ails you. You know, lumbago, matrimony, the common cold.”
Horace: “Go to bed, Mrs. Boothe. If you have to have bad dreams, have them there. They do less damage.”
Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82. Cause of death: Congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.