powered by AFI
For all the respect and power she commanded in Hollywood, Barbara Stanwyck had a reputation for being very generous and considerate to the young actors who worked with her. After 65 films and 25 years in motion pictures, she certainly had her patience and generosity tested during the making of Clash By Night (1952) by a co-star whose on-set difficulties have become legend. Although still a young actress and not the top star she was destined to be, Marilyn Monroe was already sorely testing the patience of directors, co-stars, and crew. Yet by all accounts, Stanwyck never lost her temper with the younger woman during the making of Clash By Night or spoke harshly of her in the years to come.
In Fritz Lang's intense study of adultery and betrayal in a northern California fishing village (a change from the original New York location of Clifford Odets' play), Stanwyck plays Mae Doyle, a woman disillusioned with life and men who returns to her home town and marries a simple, decent fisherman - Jerry D'Amato - for security. But the bitter, restless woman soon finds herself falling for Earl, the cynical but far more sexually attractive projectionist at the local movie theater, exactly the kind of man she was trying to get away from. Although she has had Jerry's baby, Mae begins an affair with Earl that almost ends in tragedy.
Monroe played the relatively small part of Peggy, the high-spirited cannery worker who is dating Mae's brother. Playing one of her first important roles, Monroe was nervous to the point of vomiting before every scene and breaking out in red blotches on her hands and face. She was often late, forgetful, and uncommunicative. Lang, not one to suffer actor idiosyncrasies lightly, was at his wits' end with the young actress, but Stanwyck was a model of patience. The director recounted a scene in which Stanwyck had to hang clothes on a line while talking to Monroe, who repeatedly blew her lines. The seasoned professional had to remove the clothes from the line and start over to accommodate the newcomer, but Lang said, "Not once did she have a bad word for Marilyn. She understood her perfectly."
Stanwyck admitted years later that Monroe "drove Bob Ryan, Paul Douglas, and myself out of our minds." She told the Toronto Telegram in 1965 she found Monroe "awkward. She couldn't get out of her own way. She wasn't disciplined, and she was often late, but she didn't do it viciously, and there was a sort of magic about her which we all recognized at once. Her phobias, or whatever they were, came later; she seemed just a carefree kid, and she owned the world." Monroe ended up turning in a performance that was enthusiastically received by critics, strengthening the resolve of her studio, 20th Century Fox, to develop her into a major star.
Not that Stanwyck didn't have her on-set difficulties, too, although the difference in the way she and Monroe handled them illustrates why Stanwyck is still considered one of the best-liked, most professional actresses ever to set foot before a camera. One day during the shooting of Clash By Night, she complained to Lang that a scene they were working on was very badly written and that she could never play it. Lang disagreed. "Barbara, may I speak very frankly and openly with you," he later recalled saying. "I think the scene reminds you of a rather recent event in your private life, and that is why you think it is badly written and you cannot play it." Lang said Stanwyck looked at him for a second and then said slowly, "You son of a bitch." The director didn't repeat what the private event was, although around this time, Stanwyck was getting a divorce from her husband of 12 years, actor Robert Taylor, who had reportedly fallen for another woman. Nevertheless, Lang said she turned on her heels and played the scene "so wonderfully that we had to shoot it only once." Although he said he never worked with any artist in the U.S. or abroad more cooperative than Barbara Stanwyck, this was the only picture the two made together.
Director: Fritz Lang
Producers: Jerry Wald, Norman Krasna, Harriet Parsons
Screenplay: Alfred Hayes, based on the play by Clifford Odets
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: George Amy
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Mae Doyle), Paul Douglas (Jerry D'Amato), Robert Ryan (Earl Pfeiffer), Marilyn Monroe (Peggy), Keith Andes (Joe Doyle), J. Carrol Naish (Uncle Vince).
BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Rob Nixon