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.
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