Frightened Doll - 1961

The Barbara Stanwyck Show, April 24, 1961

"Frightened Doll" - The Barbara Stanwyck Show, broadcast April 24, 1961 on NBC

Directed by Jacques Tourneur, written by A. I. Bezzerides

Stanwyck is an aging quasi-prostitute named Hazel Wexley haunting the bar where Wallace Ford (as bartender Harry) works. She gets picked up by visiting Chicago mobster bagman Jake Lytell (Harold J. Stone) and they travel back to his hotel room (he complains he is feeling quite ill, gripping his stomach with a puzzled look on his face, and would she help him make the walk?)

The two tired adults begin talking, and Hazel lets slip out how badly she wishes she could go home, how long she's been barely surviving in the city, and how she's too poor and too embarrassed. What would it take to finance her trip back home? Asks the genial mobster with the constant stomach pain: about a thousand dollars, she says, then she could do it in style.

He's promptly willing to give her the funds for this fantasy trip that she's been nursing in her head for years, but when he gets up to move to a locked room where presumably his money is stashed, he dies of an apparent heart attack and slumps up against the wall. Hazel tries to help him and then finds the dead man's black bag, which is stuffed with cash. She takes it, leaves the dead man and smoothly glides out of the hotel back to her little rented room and starts dreaming of going home. But then...

This isn't exactly The Trip to Bountiful but it comes from the same source, the wish of an aging woman to be able to return home (Stanwyck played a similar but much darker role in Frtiz Lang's 1952 semi-noir Clash by Night), the twist here is that when the mobster owners of the money come looking for what happened to Jake's black bag, the need to go home (and hide) takes on a practical dimension that has nothing to do with nostalgia and emotional satisfaction.

Wallace Ford's bartender is a sort-of guardian angel and general nice-guy who can see where everything is leading if Hazel doesn't get out of town, and though he temporarily stalls the pair of mob scouts searching for the cash ("I just mix the drinks" he claims, blowing them off) it's this fast thinking bartender who provides an ironic (and comical) solution that caps off the story in an unexpected way.

Director Tourneur puts Stanwyck through the paces, going from a black-mane of hair as a worn femme-fatale in a shiny sheath-dress and then (through a shampoo rinse) into the familiar silver-haired and smiling Ruby Stevens.

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Original Page May 2015

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