One of Golden Age Hollywood’s best comedies, The Lady Eve remains writer-director Preston Sturges’ best loved film.
Sturges took the screwball comedy genre to another level, with his naturalistic dialogue and class satire, in films such as Sullivan’s Travels (a rich man pretends to live as a pauper as research for making a socially conscious movie O Brother, Where Art Thou – later made into a real movie by the Coen Brothers); and The Great McGinty (a poor man fails upwards till he becomes Governor of an American state). For the latter film, Sturges won the first ever Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. In the mid-1940s he was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood.
The film’s stars, Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck, are best remembered for serious roles. Fonda in dramas such as Twelve Angry Men, or westerns such as Once Upon a Time in the West; Stanwyck for her iconic femme fatale in Billy Wilder’s great film noir, Double Indemnity. But in The Lady Eve, as a prim professor and a brazen adventuress, they together make the perfect comic couple; ably supported by Sturges’ trademark glittering dialogue, and his regular cast of supporting players.
“Fonda is the rock. He remains vulnerable and sincere throughout the picture. … That frees Stanwyck for one of her greatest performances, a flight of romance and comedy so graceful and effortless that she is somehow able to play different notes at the same time.” Roger Ebert, Rogerebert.com
“A champagne punchbowl of musical-comedy fantasy innocence … The dialogue scenes between Stanwyck and Fonda are tremendous. In fact Stanwyck completely upstages Fonda, who looks as delicate as a Lalique vase. She is the real thoroughbred.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian