The Lady Eve (1941)

Glamorous conwoman Barbara Stanwyck gets millionaire boffin Henry Fonda in her sights in Preston Sturges’s sparkling screwball comedy.

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“Sturges’ superb screwball comedy combines humour and eroticism with a few well-judge swipes at the American class system. The pairing of Henry Fonda... and Barbara Stanwyck... works perfectly.”
Geoffrey Macnab, Sight & Sound, July 2005

Better remembered for intense dramatic roles, Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda weren’t obvious choices for light romantic comedy, but they’re nicely matched in this Preston Sturges classic. Stanwyck is the card sharp who sets out to fleece earnest, accident-prone millionaire “ophiologist” (snake expert) Fonda on a liner from South America, only to fall in love with him. When he rumbles her and breaks off their romance, she poses as glamorous English aristocrat “the Lady Eve Sidwich” in order to win him back.

There’s polished comic support from stalwart character actors Charles Coburn, William Demarest and a scene-stealing Eric Blore, a regular foil for Fred Astaire in his 1930s musicals. Made in 1941, it was the last blast of the screwball genre before it was killed off by the outbreak of WWII.

Howard Hawks’s Bringing up Baby (1938) used a similar set-up of a repressed and nerdy expert – this time not snakes but dinosaurs – loosened up by a dynamic woman.

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