The Lady Eve (1941 D: Preston Sturges, W: Preston Sturges)
My friend, the producer and cinephile Barbara Stone, said that if anyone asked her advice about what to do if they wanted to write a screenplay or make a film, she’d say, “Go watch The Lady Eve.” Sturges’ mix of romantic comedy, slapstick and deeper social commentary is pretty much unmatched, and his films are marvels of literate dialogue and great comic acting. In this one, Henry Fonda is a naive herpetologist who’s been up the Amazon looking at snakes (Sturges’ metaphors are pretty obvious stuff, and hilarious), when he meets Jean Harrington (Barbra Stanwyck), and falls in love. Of course, she’s a con artist, along with her father Charles Coburn. The plot goes haywire from there, with William Demarest (Uncle Charley from My Three Sons) as Fonda’s voice of reason. There’s not a scene I can think of in film history that matches the intense romanticism, sexual undercurrent and, meanwhile, comic tone of the seductive routine Stanwyck pulls on Fonda, asking him to help her put her shoes on. One of the greatest movies ever.