4. Barbara Stanwyck
DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE LADY EVE, MEET JOHN DOE, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER, BABY FACE
To call Barbara Stanwyck a versatile performer would be an understatement. In a career that spanned over sixty years, she not only played a variety of types in a variety of tones and genres; she often played the definitive version of those types. Has there ever been a more seductively malevolent femme fatale than her Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity? A more pitiful weepie heroine than Stella Dallas? How about a screwball con woman even half as lightning-fast and razor-sharp as Jean Harrington from The Lady Eve? Stanwyck could play tough, tender, smart, and sexy, sometimes all in the same scene. Her talent for shifting personas on a dime is on special display in 1933’s Baby Face, where she played a manipulative maneater with such electrifying skill that it actually helped usher in the Hays code. The idea of woman trying to “have it all” wasn’t really a thing in Stanwyck’s day, but she came as close to being it all as any actress – or any woman, really – could hope to.