The Lady Eve

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(1941, directed by Preston Sturges)

- inducted 2014 –

“’Not good enough,’ the lovely grifter Jean Harrington surmises, her eyes on a reflection of a rich, handsome bachelor in her compact mirror. ‘Every Jane in the room is giving him the thermometer and he feels they’re just a waste of time.’

“So begins the most wickedly charming meet-cute in romantic comedy history, and one of the funniest. With a backward thrust of her high heel, Barbara Stanwyck’s Jean connects with Henry Fonda’s millionaire-snake expert Charles Pike. He trips and falls, establishing the lopsided power dynamic and playfully cruel nature of the relationship that follows.

“With The Lady Eve, Preston Sturges cemented his status as the first Hollywood screenwriter to move successfully into the director’s chair (established the year before with the Oscar-winning hit The Great McGinty), and created one of the most enduring examples of the post-Code, pre-war screwball comedy. Over 70 years later, it still crackles with life.

“Credit is due to its stellar lead performances, with Stanwyck at her most luminous and Fonda as the perfect straight man, to the effortless wit Sturges brings to the script, and to the heady, silly atmosphere fostered by its exceptional supporting cast. Personally, there are few things that can crack me up faster than the sight of Eugene Pallette, as Charles’ ale magnate father, angrily calling for his breakfast with a cymbal-like clash of serving dishes.

“But beyond Sturges’ cast, his ridiculously fun story of love forged through duplicity, his perfect timing and his agreeable, meat-and-potatoes visual style, what keeps this one fresh is the ever-present, evergreen sense of transgression.

“For a movie made in a cinematic era in which a bed was no place for two members of the opposite sex to be seen together, The Lady Eve teems with barely bridled eroticism. On its own, the scene in which Jean first seduces Charles - her hands running through his hair, her gorgeous Edith Head ensemble slipping to reveal a bit of thigh - holds more of a charge than all the romcoms of Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl put together.

“Like many of the filmmakers represented in this hall of fame, Sturges made more than one movie that could easily fit on the list – Sullivan’s Travels and the Code-rattling The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, to name a couple. But generally the others built up a body of work over many years, while Sturges had just over a decade of high productivity before Hollywood grew tired of him. From a career perspective, he was the embodiment of burning the candle at both ends, but man did he give a lovely light.” ~ Melissa Starker

Principal cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest, Eric Blore, Melville Cooper, Martha O’Driscoll, Janet Beecher, Robert Greig, Dora Clement, Luis Alberni
Screenplay by Preston Sturges
Based on a story by Monckton Hoffe
Produced by Paul Jones, Buddy G. DeSylva (uncredited)
Director of photography: Victor Milner
Art direction by Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegté
Costume design by Edith Head
Film editing by Stuart Gilmore
Sound by Don Johnson, Harry Lindgren
Original score by Charles Bradshaw (uncredited), Leo Shuken (uncredited)
Additional music by Phil Boutelje (uncredited), Gil Grau (uncredited), Sigmund Krumgold (uncredited), John Leipold (uncredited)
Makeup by Ben Nye (uncredited), Wally Westmore (uncredited)
Hair stylist: Hollis Barnes (uncredited)
Associate producer: Albert Lewin (uncredited)
Executive producer: William LeBaron (uncredited)

Duration: 94 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced and released in USA by Paramount Pictures
Premiered in New York City, NY on 25 February 1941

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1994
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 12 November 1997
- Academy Awards (USA), 1941: Best Writing, Original Story (nominated)
- National Board of Review: one of the Top Ten films of 1941