Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It’s Barbara Stanwyck month on Turner Classic Movies and they’ve been showing lots of great Stanwyck iconic classics (Double Indemnity, Lady Eve, Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Stella Dallas, etc) as well as some older Stanwyck pre-code films (Baby Face, The Purchase Price, Shopworn). But there are also quite a few Stanwyck films that some might not be all that familiar with.  One in particular that warrants mention is The Gay Sisters (1942) starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Donald Crisp, Gig Young, Nancy Coleman, Gene Lockhart and Donald Woods.

Stanwyck fights to keep her estate in The Gay Sisters

The "Gay Sisters" are actually the Gaylord sisters. Orphaned as children when their father dies in the Great War. He leaves behind an iron clad will to insure that his daughters, the only remaining Gaylord's, come into the millions they're heir to. But things don't go exactly as planned. Seems the will is contested when it's discovered that the father made a second will in Europe, giving some of his money to a charity in France. 20 years later the will is still being held up, the three daughters getting an allowance from the court until the matter is finally settled. But there's a new player involved (George Brent). A wealthy developer trying to help break the will in order to get control of the Gaylord mansion. Stanwyck is the oldest sister and family matriarch. She's trying to live up to her fathers last request that she never sell any of the family land while feeding a hatred for Brent whom she has a past with. But the other two sisters aren't quite as dedicated as Stanwyck. Youngest sister Coleman needs money to pay off her ex and get a divorce so she can marry starving artist Gig Young. Fitzgerald is the middle sister, just returned from school in England and she has her eye on good ol' Gig as well. Stanwyck fires her lawyers when she discovers that they've just been milking the case to suck the family fortune dry and decides to hire Donald Crisp, an honest lawyer in over his head.

Things really get complicated when Brent discovers Stanwyck has a young ward living with her. He suspects it's his son and the battle takes a new turn. Stanwyck is determined to go down in complete ruin before she lets Brent have her land or the boy. That is until one sister attempts suicide, something that helps Stanwyck start to change her priorities. This movie gives us my favorite type of Stanwyck performance. Not the femme fatale, but the woman battling against overwhelming odds, alone in her convictions, tough, calculating, sassy but with a heart of gold deep down. It's the Stanwyck we see in The Furies and Meet John Doe among other films and it's a Stanwyck who is in top form here.

The Gay Sisters stars Gig Young as...Gig Young?
One oddity is that Gig Young plays a character called Gig Young. Both IMDB and Wikipedia has him incorrectly billed as Byron Barr, the name he went by in previous films, but the credits of The Gay Sisters clearly list him as Gig Young playing Gig Young. Wiki has it that the studio liked the name of his character in this film for the actor and had him change his name after the film as a result. I have a different theory. First, his name is said in full countless times in the film. He isn't just referred to as "Gig" or "Mister Young".  Nearly every time they say his name it's said in full as Gig Young. Mr. Gig Young. So! You're in love with "Mister Gig Young" are you? It's hilariously obvious. All of his films prior to The Gay Sisters are uncredited bit parts. There is little doubt in my mind that the studio was using this film as a "Product Placement" of sorts for the star. They wanted the name to stick with audiences and repeating it over and over was their way of doing it. But in spite of that bit of weirdness and in spite of weak link Coleman, it's a fun film with an enjoyable story and a great Stanwyck performance.

TCM will be showing The Gay Sisters on Thursday, December 20th at 12:15 PM Eastern.


  1. I came home due an ice storm in the Piedmont, NC, and found a movie starring the great Barbara Stanwick ... the scene where she imperiously watches a poor little kid getting beat up by a gang of kids in the backyard. The way she sweeps onto a glorious back window to watch... OK, what young actress has that presence? What movie has the complex, constant dialogue and conflict of intentions and interventions as this one? I can only hope Mad Men does again. But now, I am listening to the dialogue as I write this. My wife is loving it.
    Another example of the adage: "They don't make them like that anymore."
    Thanks to TCM, now replaying on Jan 25th in the late afternoon, we can cuddle up with a Trader Joes 2012 Vintage Ale and snuggle in a silverscreen turmoil of great acting and a wonderfully corrosive plot.

    I will later, at my leisure, enjoy more of your blog. I don't know how I got here.

    Oh yes, Gig Young. The name, the real actor, the final chapture of his real life that reels the mind and sound so lurid it must be a movie someday. Cue the music, in a emotional climax.

    Den NC USA

    1. Hello, Den! Thanks for stumbling across my humble little blog! Glad you stopped by and glad you enjoyed The Gay Sisters. You are right when you say they don't make them like that anymore. I hope you enjoy the blog and hope you'll share any comments you might have. Stay warm in NC!