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  • Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck made six films together, the most they did respectively with other leads. The Great Man's Lady while not the best example of their joint work is certainly one interesting if somewhat incredible film.

    I can certainly see what attracted Stanwyck to a role that was part Maytime and part any number of Edna Ferber like tales of empire builders. Stanwyck is certainly a better actress than Jeanette MacDonald and she really does carry off the part of the 107 year old pioneer woman who is telling a young reporter about her most interesting life.

    Like in Cimarron, McCrea and Stanwyck start out for the west in the 1840s in search of opportunity and like in Cimarron the woman is being taken from a life of ease and comfort to become a pioneer. The film shows how very useful she was to him.

    Albeit even with her conservative politics in real life, Stanwyck was a feminist icon and in the 19th century without even the right to vote, women held a far different position than they do legally now. What help she renders to McCrea is on the unofficial side. But as the story unfolds she contributes mightily to his rise to fame and power and sacrifices EVERYTHING for him.

    I'd like to give the film a higher rating, but the thing that totally throws me is the part her father plays in her ultimate decision. Thurston Hall is Stanwyck's father and he's a typical robber baron of the era. But I can't see any father asking his daughter to do what she did for business reasons. It makes the whole story quite bizarre.

    McCrea and Stanwyck liked each other personally and professionally. In Tony Thomas's book about Joel McCrea based on interviews he did with him in the Eighties, McCrea said that Barbara Stanwyck was his favorite leading lady. She was thoroughly professional and helpful to every other cast member in any film she was in. He had no qualms in saying that The Great Man's Lady is her film all the way.

    It's far from her best film, but for Barbara Stanwyck fans it's one of her best performances.
  • Such undeserved condescension on the part of most of your reviewers! I thought it was an absorbing romantic drama in which Stanwyck was at her very best. As she turned from youthful sparkly-eyed amused flirt in her first scenes with McCrea into the mature more gray-haired woman seriously urging him to do his political best for those whom he represented, her virtuosity as an actress of transformations came greatly to the fore. It was a pleasure to respond to her in her various moods of youthful love, a stunned mother's loss of her two babies, her vigorous denunciation of her father in his unconscionable request of her, and finally the resignation of old age in which she at last destroys the long-lived marriage certificate she's been carrying around through most of the story.

    McCrea was also very good, especially in the scene in which he confesses himself guilty of the same kind of corruption so rife in the American West at that railroad-building time.

    The story seemed to echo the true events of The Ballad of Baby Doe (opera) in its background of silver mining and marital troubles; and it certainly resembled Edna Ferber-Abby Mann's Cimarron in retelling the story of a marriage in which the husband spends years on the road away from his wife.

    The 19th-century flooding in Sacramento was certainly up to date given the similar events happening in that city in our own times as well.

    A great movie. Pay no attention to those detractors.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    There were two Joel McCreas. One was the fairly noted actor in Western films. But before that, McCrea made many "regular" pics as a leading man, and he was usually very good, if not excellent. I always bypassed this particular film because I was not a fan of McCrea in Westerns.

    But, although this film takes place in the West, I would not really call it a Western. It's a sort of love story between McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck that happens to take place in the West.

    The story begins when a statue is being dedicated to the late founder of "Hoyt City", and there's a controversy that he may have been guilty of bigamy. So reporters attempt to interview the 100 year old wife (or is she mistress). A young female writer does get an interview, and Stanwyck (whom you won't even recognize at age 100) explains her story in flashbacks. I'm not a big fan of flashbacks -- I think it's a technique in films that is overdone -- but here it really works.

    McCrea's character, in my view, does not come off particularly well here, although his acting is perfectly fine. Oddly enough, the man who tries to steal Stanwyck from McCrea comes off as a more likable character, and is well played by Brian Donlevy. There are many trials and tribulations that the main characters have to survive here -- floods, hate, the loss of children, the belief that the wife is dead (which unintentionally does lead to bigamy), and so forth.

    Stanwyck is excellent here, and apparently this was one of her favorite film roles, and deservedly so.

    I didn't particularly like the very ending of the film, but aside from that it really held my attention because it is a different kind of film and has uniformly strong acting.

    I highly recommend it, and savor Joel McCrea before he became a cowboy actor.
  • When the statue of the founder of Hoyt City, Ethan Hoyt (Joel McCrea) is dedicated, the sensationalist reporters and a biographer (Katharine Stevens) head to the house of the one hundred year-old Hannah Sempler (Barbara Stanwyck), where Ethan died, to know the relationship between them. Ms. Hannah sends them all out but the lady. Then she tells her life since she was a teenager and felt in love with the pioneer Ethan.

    In 1848, in Philadelphia, Ethan dreams on building Hoyt City, but he needs financiers and influent people to change the route of the railroad. Hannah decides to leave her upper-class father and marries with Ethan. Eight years later, she meets the gambler Steely Edwards (Brian Donlevy) and they become close friends. When Ethan discovers silver, Steely lends money to Hannah with the condition that she does not go to the mines with Ethan. Along the years, Ethan becomes rich and far from Hannah that he believes had died in a flood. Years later, they meet each other again in Hoyt City but their love is doomed since Ethan has raised a family of his own.

    "The Great Man's Lady" is a classic with some of my favorite directors (William A. Wellman), actresses (Barbara Stanwyck) and actors (Joel McCrea and Brian Donlevy); and haunting music score by Victor Young. Unfortunately the story is a confused romance with a not well-explained triangle of love. I did not understand the quote "spring never comes again", since spring returns every year. My vote is six.

    Title (Brazil): "Até Que a Morte nos Separe" ("Till Death Do Us Apart")
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The scenes actually directed by producer William A. Wellman (a runaway marriage in a storm, news of the silver strike, the flood, Donlevy bringing the news of Hannah's death) are among his best work. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the movie is directed with only superficial competence by Joseph C. Youngerman. However, William C. Mellor's beautiful photography of silhouettes and bleak landscapes, plus the breathtaking sets created by Hans Dreier and Earl Hedrick are really so outstanding, they make the film worth seeing just on their own account. And let's not forget Barbara Stanwyck's faultless make-up. Stanwyck herself gives a most convincing performance. The screenplay too has its memorable moments but is inclined to undo some of its persuasive work and get all wishy-washy in the last quarter hour.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Not a great film by any means, this is still an interesting study of a woman standing by her man in the hardest of times and stepping aside when she believes that she is no longer needed in his life. Barbara Stanwyck give one of her typically multi-dimensional performances as a woman over 100 years old who tells her story to a rising female biographer, flashing back to her days as a very young girl in Philadelphia society and moving on to the wild west when tragedy separates her from the man she loves, rising politician Joel McCrea.

    While the narrative is excellent, dragging segments and some convoluted details makes for a missed opportunity for what could have been a classic. It is similar in many ways to the Greer Garson/Walter Pidgeon teaming, "Mrs. Parkington", and is a tribute to the bravery and integrity of the men and their women who helped the foundation of our country.

    Directed by William A. Wellman, it is not just a women's story, but like the best marriages focuses on what partnership. It was a propaganda film of a different sort for World War II, and holds up still on many levels. Brian Donlevy is excellent as the man who stands between Stanwyck and McCrea, while Thurstan Hall is her imperious father. Young K.T. Stevens is sincere as the young girl who reminds Stanwyck (hidden behind old age make- up and a Whistler's Mother dress) that everything is important when your young. So while this isn't one of her best known films, performance wise, it is a true sleeper.
  • ~~~Since I was only 12 when I saw this years ago, I was very impressed with everything about the movie-----the stars, the storyline, the costumes, the historical flavor, and the emphasis on the noble character of the leading stars----Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea who were always great in everything in which they ever appeared. It was the only movie I ever returned to see the second time before I started seeing numerous repeats on the TV Movie Channels. The movie starts and ends with Barbara Stanwyck portraying an elderly lady who tells the story of her relationship to Joel McCrea from youth through maturity. Through a series of flashbacks, Stanwyck tells her story to a pretty, young, blonde reporter who is interviewing her in the hope of getting a hot story on the day an imposing statue of McCrea is dedicated.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is a woman's picture (specifically, Barbara Stanwyck's picture). The narrative skips large portions of time. What a surprise to see in the opening credits that the screenplay is based on a short story by Vina Delmar. Surely, it seems to be based on an epic novel-- and it could easily have been stretched out to 'Gone with the Wind'-style length.

    The film is compromised by the constraints imposed by the production code (involving the bigamy of Joel McCrea's character and an extra-marital affair between Stanwyck's character and Brian Donlevy). But Miss Stanwyck's hard work helps pull off the story, and the flood scenes are very well photographed, especially a sequence with an overturned stagecoach and infant children. It is easily the most memorable part of the film. There is a lot of rain/water used in this picture. In one scene, the entire studio floor is visibly flooded.

    Some aspects of the plot are too contrived. It is a little too easy for Stanwyck to turn back instead of going on after the bridge tragedy to find McCrea. Maybe if there had been a quick scene of her attempting to locate him, but the road being washed out where she was forced to turn back, then that would have been more believable.

    Did anyone else feel as if the biographer was going to turn out to be Stanwyck's stepdaughter, or rather, the daughter of McCrea's character with his second wife? I suppose the filmmakers were prevented from showing McCrea as having committed bigamy, though the marriage certificate at the end proves it.
  • Saddled with an uninspiring title, "The Great Man's Lady" is less than the sum of its parts. Hoyt City unveils an equine statue of its founder, Ethan Hoyt, which unleashes a bevy of news reporters intent on delving into his life and the mystery of why he returned to die in the home of a local woman, Hannah Semple. While most of the reporters are dismissed, a young biographer manages to win the trust of the elderly Hannah, who proceeds to tell her about Ethan Hoyt in a series of flashbacks. However, Hannah's tale is a routine story of ambition, risk, and tragedy that led to wealth and high political office; a successful man and the woman who aided his rise. Unfortunately, a near-century in the life of a remarkable woman is impossible to squeeze into a 90-minute running time, and decades are omitted between flashbacks; the episodic film has several unseen characters and unexplained events.

    Aided by aging make-up that is remarkably convincing for the period, Barbara Stanwyck plays Hannah Semple from a flirtatious 16-year old to the 109-year-old woman who recalls her life for the biographer. Her tour-de-force performance is the film's prime asset, and Stanwyck has some fine, if occasionally sudsy, moments. In the fifth of their six co-starring features, Joel McCrea as the great man, Ethan Hoyt, plays well opposite Stanwyck, although his role is far less demanding than hers and rests on his considerable charm. Beyond Hoyt's rise to prominence, a romantic triangle is also central to the story, and Brian Donlevy, who often played the villain, is gambler Steely Edwards; Donlevy's part, a heavy with a heart, does demonstrate genuine affection for Hannah and respect for Hoyt.

    Nearly equal in importance to Stanwyck and McCrea, the third star of the film is cinematographer William C. Mellor, whose shadowy black and white photography is often stunning. Capturing the actors in silhouettes or darkly garbed against light backgrounds, several shots could be framed and hung in a gallery. Mellor also photographs the leads and even extras in sharply delineated close-ups that rival the best studio portraits. The talented cameraman subsequently earned Academy Awards for "A Place in the Sun" and "The Diary of Anne Frank," among other nominations and accolades in his long distinguished career.

    Well directed by veteran William Wellman, "The Great Man's Lady" is a predictable story of an important self-made man, who owes much of his success to the woman behind him. However, without Stanwyck's captivating performance, McCrea's charisma, and Mellor's rich cinematography, the film would barely merit attention.
  • This is a mess of a movie that, frankly, should not have been made, especially not by a pro's pro like Wellman, not even as a favor to the dependably phenomenal Miss Stanwyck. Italian grand opera has never featured a plot gone this far off the rails. Nor are any of opera's leading saints or scoundrels accorded the admiration plainly directed at the leads in this film, who show less common sense, valor, or candor than Wile E. Coyote brings to a bad day on the mesa.

    I won't spoil this turkey for intrepid or optimistic viewers, but I will note that the story nods (so quickly you might miss it) to an entire off-screen family whose existence, if contemplated for more than 10 seconds by any character, would've given some interesting version of this film a problem and points of view worth watching.

    "Reefer Madness" handled continuity better than this. Many of the lavish costumes are out of place on relatively bare sets. Joel McCrea's mustache, for heaven's sake, looks like it's about to slip off his handsome face through many scenes!

    Turner Classic, bless them, just showed this, earning my continued thanks for gallantly refusing to do my quality control for me.
  • Fake history, played for bathos. On Founders Day in the thriving metropolis of Hoyt City, eager-beaver reporters swarm the home of a 109-year old woman, reputedly once married to founding father Ethan Hoyt; she's surely got a tall tale to tell, beginning when she was just a teenager in 1848 Philadelphia. Barbara Stanwyck begs, borrows, and barters to finance the future of idealistic husband Joel McCrea, who owns a great stretch of land with nothing on it but a shack. The narrative skitters over such crucial story-elements as railroad access, livestock, a water supply, financial aid--all for the sake of marital melodrama. Brian Donlevy, as a shady gambler who has immediate eyes for Stanwyck, does what he can with a character conceived as an afterthought (he plugs up the holes left behind by a screenplay spanning many years' time); Stanwyck and McCrea fare a bit better, though this story is seldom credible, and is often downright loopy. Production is handsome enough, and the intentions behind the film are apparently heartfelt, but there isn't a surprise in its entire 91 minutes. ** from ****
  • Unfortunately I found this VHS at Video Vault and took it home. All I can say is that even with William A. Wellman directing, Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck acting, Victor Young doing the music and Edith Head the costumes --- each of these people have made pictures ten times better.

    Walt Disney's Thumper taught me years ago, "If you can't say nuthin' nice, don't say nuthin' at all." Therefore, I'll note that Great Man's Lady was better than "Shawshank Redemption" which ranks #2 of all time on this website, better than "Order of the Phoenix" whereby Warner's tossed the 750 page story and made a 2 1/2 hour movie with NO story. Please see Wellman's AAA+ "Little Caesar" or McCrea's "4 Faces West" and skip this one.
  • rmrgmm8 September 2010
    Unfortunately, whatever production values this film contains are generally spoiled by the passage of time and fortunate changes in perspective. For those of us watching now are happily forewarned in the narrator's introduction to the film in which it is not only explicit as to the woman character's subordinate position to her "great man" but also at least implicit as to the role of any woman in the life of her "great man." Of the many "flash-back" films where the character re-hashes their past, this is certainly melodramatic in its acting and characterizations. The action does not seem compelling to watch, as if one could fast-forward to get to the punch line, which does not really satisfy - the principal male character's life is summed up in such high regard as to make one wonder if the viewer had just seen the same film! One has to wonder how female audience members felt about the general message (such as it is) of this film when it opened in theatres, although Ms. Stanwyck most likely held her own in her stubbornness by standards of the time.