I saw this episode of The Barbara Stanwyck show mainly to see what Jacques Tourneur could do in what is basically a twenty minute television format but became entranced by the way each episode started.
As you can see above Barbara Stanwyck turns her head, the camera pulls back, the name of the show appears and leaves us only with her silhouette. It then fades to black, starts with her silhouette and the camera moves in to reveal the new dress she’s wearing ending with a medium shot above the waist as Stanwyck recounts the plot and informs us of who the writer and the director is.
The show was clearly influenced by the Loretta Young so which had been running since 1953 and would enjoy its final season just as Barabara Stanwyck would start her new one. Loretta was famous for modelling a new dress each show. I assume that the producers of the Barbara Stanwyck show also imagined that female audiences would tune in to see what its star was wearing. Barbara, however, does not twirl. It’s an elegant and informative opening.
The producers have clearly taken care to provide the star with as many changes of outfit as possible and they manage to cram quite a few in twenty minutes (see below).
The format of this series is an anthology one, with different stories each week, which gives everyone involved more scope but is perhaps less satisfying for an audience. Here Barbara Stanwyck is a silk entrepreneur who goes to the see the US Vice Consul in Hong Kong (Ralph Bellamy) guest starring and bumps into Hong Kong waif who has already found adoptive parents but can´t find the papers necessary to prove who he is and has a deadline in which to get them. Needless to say Ralph and Barbara help, everything is resolved at the end and US services abroad get praised in Barbara´s concluding chat, a visual and structural rhyme to the beginning.
The format allows for little preparation, few set-up, little camera movement in the story itself. What I noticed is that Tourneur frames judiciously, often keeping the accent on the boy. Stock footage is used extraordinarily well to give the impression that all the action happens in Hong Kong, and the actors give extraordinarily accomplished performances given the material. It´s also worth noting that the potential for racism is extremely high and the show largely avoids it even though I did wonder if it had in any way inspired the character of Short Round in Spielberg´s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Stanwyck won an Emmy for her performance in the serious. As to Tourneur, he directed quite a lot of episodic television, and I will see some more, but…episodic television of this period is not a director´s medium.