I can’t begin to tell you who said it, but it has long been known in the annals of popular culture that comedy is serious business. No single person epitomizes this wisdom more than Preston Sturges. Through his captivating tales and playful approach, he came to be associated with what has often been called the “screwball” genre, though in fact his focus and his way of telling a story were extremely innovative and ground-breaking.
Sturges got his start as a writer for Paramount Studios back in the 1930s. He learned quickly and
adapted to the prevailing norms in society and within the culture at Paramount at the time. For example, in his screenplay for The Great McGinty, Sturges uses as his main protagonist a feckless con artist from Chicago who quickly learns that he can support himself (and nearly all of Cook County!) with his conniving and his graft.
Sturges won his first and only Academy Award for The Lady Eve, a madcap shipboard romance saga starring Barbara Stanwyck as the seductress and Henry Fonda as the budding ophiologist. The casting was inspired, but Sturges takes the narrative in an incredible direction with his introduction of the double, inversing the traits of one character, which are then carried out by the same character seeking a different result. “Positively the same dame!” as William Demarest so slyly observes in the last scene.
Based initially on a story by Moncton Hoffe called Two Bad Hats, the flow throughout The Lady Eve also relies heavily on Sturges’s stock company – a loosely affiliated group of actors and n’er do-wells who have given his stories remarkable depth, humor and pathos with an uncanny execution of dialog and bits from one adventure to the next. These would include, of course, Bill Demarest, Charles Coburn, Eugene Palette, Eric Blore and Melville Cooper.
The end result of all this tugging and twisting is a mirror-like narrative where good becomes bad and bad becomes good… and hilarious!
One of the true comedy classics of all time, The Lady Eve offers that rare combination of romance, action, satire and drama.