Summer Under the Stars: The Lady Eve (1941)

TCM’s star of the day is Barbara Stanwyck, and my film pick for the actress is The Lady Eve, which airs today at 12:00 P.M. (EST).

Sailing back home to the United States on an ocean liner after a year-long expedition in South America, the wealthy but unsophisticated Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) meets the bewitching Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), who unbeknownst to him is a con artist looking to get her hands on some of his money. As the two spend more time together though, she begins to fall for her mark and decides to call off the scheme. But soon after Charles learns the truth and breaks it off. Jean then decides to exact her own form of revenge and disguises herself as a British noblewoman named Lady Eve Sidwich to re-conquer his heart.

Though Barbara Stanwyck was no stranger to comedy, The Lady Eve was her first straight-laced comedy film, and there’s no better way to enter the genre head-on than under the direction of Preston Sturges, whose films took screwball to another level. As Jean Harrington, Stanwyck takes full command of the film, enchanting both Henry Fonda’s Charles Pike and the audience. The film ended up being a huge success for all involved and marked the first big comedy hit for Stanwyck and Fonda, both of whom were primarily known for their dramatic work.

By the time Barbara Stanwyck made The Lady Eve, she was already a major Hollywood star, and she still had quite a lengthy career ahead of her. Making her film debut at the tail end of the 1920s, she was only a little more than 10 years into what ended up being a nearly 60-year career in movies and television. Within her lengthy career, she’s arguably best remembered for the films she made in the 1940s, with The Lady Eve being her first notable one of the decade. That same year, she also starred in another romantic screwball comedy, Ball of Fire, in which she earned her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress, following the first one she received four years prior for 1937’s Stella Dallas. And then just a few years later came Stanwyck’s most memorable role in 1944’s Double Indemnity, which not only earned her another Oscar nomination but also cemented her status as one of the preeminent femme fatales of the film noir at the genre’s height. Her last Oscar nomination came near the end of the decade with another noir, 1948’s Sorry, Wrong Number. Though her name didn’t appear on the Oscar ballot again, Stanwyck still had a rich, fulfilling career following the successful decade, and later received an Honorary Oscar in 1982 for her work.

The Lady Eve is easily one of the most entertaining films to come out of the height of the screwball comedy genre. Along with a clever screenplay, the film benefits from the steamy chemistry between its stars, balancing both the movie’s broad slapstick and romantic sophistication to great effect. It’s a movie that gets better with every viewing, and despite Henry Fonda’s numerous pratfalls, the jokes never get old, and it’s easy to see why one could fall quite literally for Barbara Stanwyck.

I wrote this as a part of the 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the banner below to read more posts!

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