The Lady Eve
directed by Preston Sturges, 1941
I should say up front that this is the best screwball comedy I've ever seen, and among the top few romances as well. I should also say up front that I have had a crush on Barbara Stanwyck for years, so that may color my opinion somewhat.
I almost don't want to talk too much about this movie, because it's hard to do it justice in words. But yeah like I'd ever shut my mouth about something I liked...
First of all, you've got Henry Fonda who's got the dorky rich boy shtick down, but isn't satisfied to do just that. His character has quirks and depth and realness, and also all the qualities you want in a romantic leading man. (It's amazing how many so-called romances will have lead characters who are pretty despicable and unlovable.) And Stanwyck is just a marvel really - I don't think I could say enough positive things about her. She's absolutely radiant and full of life and like Fonda she seems like such a real person. Well, of course "real" within the ludicrous context posited by a screwball comedy.
As in Sullivan's Travels (reviewed a couple weeks ago here), it's the tone that makes it all work. Unlike in that other movie, the director isn't "playing tricks" with tone here, but keeping us engaged as viewers, sucked into the story. The genius is a matter of making us feel that the people on the screen are reflections of ourselves, that there's a human commonality that connects us.
So in this context, the plot is beautifully wrought, with actual developments that alter the relationships among the characters and further the drama. (Again, how often have you seen films wherein the plot twists are nothing but that - a little obstacle to make sure it doesn't peak too soon?) A great second act and third act, each one stretching the bounds of credulity further, adding new possibilities for dramatic irony, characters study, and just hilarious dialogue.
And anyone could fall in love with Ms. Stanwyck just by watching.
July 28, 2007
The Lady Eve