Movie Night with Urbaniak: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

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urbaniak and I have an ongoing game, where we try to draw parallels between actors of one generation and another. Certain "types" are always needed for one kind of narrative or another, and so it stands to reason that Cary Grant gets re-born as George Clooney, Robert Redford gets re-born as Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen gets re-born as Daniel Craig, and so forth.

The sad thing is that some actors are never re-born. I’ve searched for decades and not found a replacement for Myrna Loy, or Carole Lombard, or Gene Kelly.

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A teeny bit more about The Lady Eve

Where does hyper-literate punker Elvis Costello get his vicious, intricate hyper-literacy? Why, from Preston Sturges, of course. There is a line from his 1981 song “White Knuckles” (from the album Trust) that had always baffled me, and, before Al Gore invented the internet, it was impossible to verify just what the hell he was singing, what with his strangled delivery and the clattering racket behind him. The song is about (what else) a couple with marital problems and for years I could have sworn there was a line in the bridge that went “She needs a lock, the ass needs a turn-key,” which seemed to make enough sense, even though it seemed like kind of a lame line from such a, you know, hyper-literate lyricist.

So, as The Lady Eve unspooled last night, imagine my surprise when, out of nowhere, the great Barbara Stanwyck suddenly announces, regarding Henry Fonda, “I need him like the axe needs the turkey,” which Costello adapted (slightly) to “He needs her like the axe needs a turkey.”  And yet another mystery of my youth was solved.

Is this a common phrase that Costello picked up, or was he inspired to thieve from Sturges?  A cursory Google search could unearth no other occurrence of the phrase, and I can imagine the young Costello at a revival house somewhere in London, or camped out in front of the telly, watching The Lady Eve with a pen and paper in his lap, furiously scribbling down the dense wit that flies thick and fast in Sturges’s masterpiece.

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Movie Night With Urbaniak: The Lady Eve

I will have much more to say about this landmark comedy from 1941 in connection with my forthcoming analysis of The Hudsucker Proxy, which lifts a number of scenes from it.

For now though, let me just say this: I have often lamented that our generation doesn’t quite have a Myrna Loy, but my God, we don’t have anything within miles of a Barbara Stanwyck. An actress who can play an “experienced,” conniving, manipulative grifter, give a complex, multi-layered performance, and be hysterically funny, and make us like her, and make our hearts break for her?

Of course, to discover an actress such as this, two things would need to happen: we writers would have to write a part as good as the one Stanwyck plays in The Lady Eve, and then a Hollywood studio would have to produce that script. I can see the first happening, but the second? That would involve a movie with a female protagonist, and everyone knows those don’t make money.

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