Anthology series from the ‘Big Valley’ Girl
The recently released DVD set of the first 15 episodes, plus the unaired pilot, of the 1960-1961 anthology series “The Barbara Stanwyck Show” is a treat for fans of Stanwyck, good TV drama, and amateur TV historians. I had not heard of the show but am very pleased that I got this chance to discover it.
It was believed that every episode of this program was lost until the Archive of American Television (archive) located the ones that this set includes.
The booklet that provides an interesting history of the show and an entertaining essay by Turner Movie Classics host Robert Osborne about interviewing Stanwyck includes a request that anyone with any of the additional 21 episodes of the series contact the archive.
The opening segment of the show varied in the 15 episodes, but the format of the main story was very consistent. Stanwyck, who starred in 14 of the 15 episodes in this set, portrayed a different woman who was facing a crisis. These characters included a modern sheriff’s wife who was handcuffed to an escaped prisoner, housewives who were married to successful but insensitive men, an unmarried importer-exporter in Hong Kong who the CIA coerces into helping with a mission, and a widowed oil executive who compensated for the weaknesses of her late husband.
Although many of these stories sound like Lifetime movies, they are written and performed much better. A few go over the top, but most have the appropriate amount of drama and are not unduly predictable. Further, filming these shows in black-and-white gives them the look of the quality dramatic films of the 1930s through the 1950s.
The episode, which was titled “Out of the Shadows,” in which Stanwyck played a psychiatrist that a former mental patient was tormenting was my personal favorite. Seeing the patient push just the right buttons and having Stanwyck’s past haunt her was just plain good television. The only flaws in this episode were a few predictable moments and a rather absurd ending, but this did not take anything from the roughly 20 good minutes of entertaining drama.
In addition to the unaired pilot, which had Stanwyck playing the wife of an Old West sheriff, the set includes Stanwyck’s acceptance of the 1961 lead actress Emmy for the series. The unfortunate aspect of this is that NBC had cancelled this exceptional show, which had good ratings, by then.
I truly would love to hear from anyone with memories of watching this show when it aired; my e-mail address is email@example.com.
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Review by John Stahl
John Stahl is a freelance legal writer who is also a fan of classic and cult television programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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