#110 (tie) – The Lady Eve (1941), dir. Preston Sturges

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Paradise regained. Henry Fonda doesn’t stand a chance when confronted with the forward charm of Barbara Stanwyck in the farcical romantic comedy The Lady Eve.

Things have been rather serious here at Fan With a Movie Yammer of late. Deep, arty examinations of the soul, destitute farmers suffering without escape, and hell, even the more comedic flicks were filled with war, oppression, murder, and Nazis. So thank goodness for The Lady Eve (1941), writer/director Preston Sturges’ screwball comedy of sexy banter and undignified pratfalls. Sturges was one of the first auteurs in Hollywood, putting out a string of smart comedies that he both wrote and directed — an unusual combination during the days of the studio system. In The Lady Eve, Henry Fonda stars as a reedy, awkward snake expert who happens to be the heir to a brewing fortune. Barbara Stanwyck is a grifter who charms Fonda in order to rip him off at the card table, but ends up inadvertently falling for the big dork. As is the case in pretty much every romantic comedy, misunderstanding and pride cast our two leads asunder, but what sets The Lady Eve apart from its ho-hum rom-com brethren is its willingness to be positively ludicrous. It also doesn’t hurt that Stanwyck’s forceful con artist and Fonda’s dopey scientist have a lopsided chemistry that burns with sexual tension. (94 min.) Continue reading

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#171 (tie) – His Girl Friday (1940), dir. Howard Hawks

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Follow my lede. Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant star as two conniving newspapermen (and former huband and wife) covering the upcoming execution of a murderer in the bullet-quick black comedy His Girl Friday.

Director Howard Hawks returns to the yammerverse for his third Sight & Sound list movie in as many years. His Girl Friday (1940) also marks the third time Hawks has made use of the talents of Cary Grant, who stars as Walter Burns, the unscrupulous editor of a popular, but very tabloidy, New York newspaper. But Grant takes a backseat in this vehicle to Rosalind Russell, whose Hildy Johnson is a hardnosed journalist and Walter’s ex-wife. Hildy is about to get remarried and leave the newspaper — two things Walter won’t stand for. His Girl Friday falls very much into Hollywood’s screwball comedy form, although the characters aren’t as loopy or pratfall-prone as one would find in Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve. Rather, this is a movie of very competent — and intensely chatty — characters who are trying to out-scheme each other to get what they want, be it money, love, or that exclusive story. And as it happens, His Girl Friday is actually a remake of an earlier film (The Front Page, 1931), which goes to show that not every remake is a sign of creative bankruptcy. Sometimes a story really needs a second chance, and His Girl Friday is all about seizing onto those second chances. (88 min.) Continue reading

#110 (tie) – Bringing Up Baby (1938), dir. Howard Hawks

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Since my Baby left me… Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and George serenade a roof-bound leopard in Howard Hawks’ madcap comedy Bringing Up Baby.

In the 1930s a new fast-paced and borderline insane form of movie laugh-making came to the fore in Hollywood: the screwball comedy. Rather than falling into the established pattern of wild comedic characters and suffering straight men, everyone is ridiculous in screwball comedy. For you non-baseball fans out there, a screwball is a little-used pitch that moves in the opposite direction to the more commonly thrown curveball, which lead to the term being taken up to refer to eccentricity. Often considered the peak of the screwball form is Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby (1938), featuring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. And the situation in Bringing Up Baby is indeed eccentric, with Grant playing a nervous paleontologist trying to secure a grant for his museum and Hepburn as a confident but supremely ditzy heiress who tricks Grant into helping her transport the tame leopard Baby to her aunt’s house. The film is even more ludicrous than that sounds, with Hepburn’s lovestruck loon, in particular, serving as one of the most brazenly ridiculous characters to be found in classic comedy. That’s a pretty impressive feat, considering that she co-stars with a very naughty dog and a real, live jungle cat. (102 min.) Continue reading