Friday, March 7, 2014

“The Lady Eve” 5th film in Screwball Comedy series screened March 11, 2014

When: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street

The Lady Eve (1941) Father and daughter con artists (Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck) travel on transatlantic cruise ships swindling rich passengers in card games. When the two spot a big fish Charles Poncefort Pike (Henry Fonda), heir to Pike Ale—“The ale that won for Yale”—they decide to take him for all he’s worth. But when the daughter falls in love with their mark, things get complicated and hilarious. Preston Sturges directed his first big-budget hit with with amazing results. A critical and financial success, the New York Times declared The Lady Eve the best picture of 1941, above Citizen Kane! Once you see this film you’ll understand why they came to that amazing conclusion.

This was Preston Sturges’s third film as both writer and director and his first big-budget production, with A-list movie stars. After the critical and financial successes of The Great McGinty and Christmas in July, both released in 1940, Paramount gave Sturges free rein to craft The Lady Eve. For his leads, Sturges got Stanwyck and Fonda. From all accounts, both stars enjoyed working with each other and with Sturges. Sturges wrote The Lady Eve with Stanwyck in mind after he saw her performance in Remember the Night the year before. Sturges was so impressed with her characterization in that film that he knew she would be ideal as Eve.

Fonda, who had four films in release in 1940, including The Grapes of Wrath, was happy to star in a comedy. As Charles Pike, Fonda showed his lighter side, being especially deft at physical comedy. Fonda’s numerous pratfalls are one of the film’s major delights. Bosley Crowther in theNew York Times said, “No one could possibly have suspected the dry and somewhat ponderous comic talent which is exhibited by Henry Fonda as the rich young man.” As Eve, Stanwyck is one part of a trio of card sharks mixing it up with rich swells, like Pike, traveling by ocean liner. Along with her father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn) and their “butler” Gerald (Melvin Cooper), Eve sees Pike as an easy mark.

A publicity shot during the filming of The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve is filled with a host of great character actors, most of which became part of the “Sturges Stock Company.” This stock company included William Demarest, Eric Blore, and Robert Grieg. The latter two appeared in Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, also released in 1941.

When the movie was opened, Crowther, declared Sturges, “the most refreshing new force to hit the American motion pictures in the past five years.” He went on to say that a “more charming or distinguished gem of nonsense has not occurred since It Happened One Night.”

The Lady Eve is not only one of the best screwball comedies, but one of the best American films ever made.

Henry Fonda said Barbara Stanwyck was his favorite leading lady.

Backstory: Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay for Remember the Night with Carole Lombard in mind. He was disappointed that Paramount didn't secure her services, but when he saw Stanwyck in the lead, he was impressed. Stanwyck told Sturges that no one writes comedies for her. Sturges said he would write one for her; that screenplay was The Lady Eve.

Join the Chicago Film club, join the discussion
The Chicago Film Club is for classic movie fans. Once a month we screen a classic film and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click hereTickets are $5 general admission; $3 for students and seniors. To purchase your ticket in advance, click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.


  1. I ADORE this film and would love to see it on the big screen. I hope you get a huge turn-out for it. Would be so much fun to see in a full theatre.

    1. It would be wonderful to have a packed house to hear all the laughter! I absolutely love this film and can't imagine anyone but Stanwyck and Fonda in the leads. They're just perfect together.


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