Stanwyck’s leading men, part 2

Barbara Stanwyck costarred with Van Heflin three times, and there was an interesting formula for those films. She played a wealthy woman, an heiress of some sort, and he was the guy from the wrong side of the tracks who brought her comfort and emotional understanding. It went all the way back to childhood in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS. In B.F.’S DAUGHTER, they met as adults and married, but the marriage was threatened by their different social backgrounds. And in EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE they were spiritual companions trying to survive a murder.

Films in the western genre often teamed her with leading man Joel McCrea. The characters she played in those motion pictures experienced severe hardship, and somehow her fate was intertwined with a man whose own destiny depended upon her. We see this in THE GREAT MAN’S LADY, where she survives a flood and goes back to him. Later in TROOPER HOOK, he guides her away from life as the kept woman of a native chief.

Stanwyck was also given roles that used a very common formula– the woman in peril story. In THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS, she was married to villainous Humphrey Bogart who tried to poison her. zdhe had another bad marriage in SORRY WRONG NUMBER, where she overheard a plan by  husband Burt Lancaster to murder her. Then she had to rely on David Niven when faced with a grim medical prognosis in THE OTHER LOVE. And in WITNESS TO MURDER, she had seen a murder occur, but killer George Sanders sought to cast a shadow on the credibility of her testimony.

With Robert Taylor, whom she married in real life, the formula had her playing a woman who was attracted to a man she was not supposed to have but needed because her salvation depended upon it. In HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, they were in-laws who fell in love. In THIS IS MY AFFAIR, he was an undercover agent and she was involved with a gang. And in THE NIGHT WALKER, he played an attorney who rescued her from a possessive husband. Stanwyck and Taylor were already divorced when the made the last picture. So she had to re-enact needing him when off-camera he was now married to someone else. At this point, anything that she drew on from their own actual relationship had to be repressed as fiction.



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