ava gardner and barbara stanwyck

Basinger_1-030614_jpg_600x695_q85Jeanine Basinger at The New York Review of Books:

Stanwyck became one of the greatest interpreters of female vulnerability the movies ever had. In Clash by Night (1952), she plays a former good-time girl trying to do right by her stolid husband, but she’s tempted by a sexy and knowing Robert Ryan. Alone in her kitchen, feeling the heat, she tries to pour herself a cup of coffee. Her hand starts to shake, the cup starts to rattle, and she just can’t do it. Finally, she gives up and breaks down weeping, the hardbitten woman showing the audience who she is, and doing it with nothing but a coffee pot.

Both actors could be dangerous on film. Gardner destroys men through sex and by being beautiful enough to drive them mad, but Stanwyck lifted male destruction to an art form. In Double Indemnity (1944), with nothing but an ankle bracelet and a blond wig, she lures Fred MacMurray to murder her husband. She’s both comic and cruel in The Lady Eve (1941) as she reveals past amours on her wedding night to the hapless Henry Fonda, and horrifically cruel in The File on Thelma Jordon (1950) when she jabs a cigarette lighter in Richard Rober’s eyeball. Late in life, when most stars had long since retired, she played a steely matriarch in The Thorn Birds (1983) on TV, and was unafraid to enact an older woman’s sexual desire.

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