THE LADY EVE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William
Director: Preston Sturges
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 93 Minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2001
a little training, you’d be great! You’ve
got a good nose.”
“Thank you…is there anything else about me you like?”
“Oh…what I meant was…”
“I know what you meant. I was just flirting with you.”
“You’re not going to faint, are you?”
comedies come and go…some, like The Lady Eve, are simply more romantic
and comical than others.
by writer/director Preston Sturges, this charming lightweight picture boasts
great lead performances by the radiant Barbara Stanwyck and the disarmingly
awkward Henry Fonda, plus a great supporting cast, a fast paced script with lots
of zingers, and a surprisingly moving love story to boot.
plays Jean Harringon, who, along with her father Henry (Coburn), work as card
sharks preying on the rich and naďve. In
Charles Pike (Fonda), the unaware heir to a brewery fortune, they’ve found the
perfect conquest. Pike is not
interested in his father’s business (he knows there’s a difference between
beer and ale, but can’t quite explain it)…his passion is snakes.
He’s just returned from a year in the Amazon where he studied them.
He hasn’t been around a girl in all that time, and the ship returning
him home is swarming with would-be-suitorettes and their mothers.
has a field day waiting to make the kill…in one of the picture’s many
memorable sequences, she studies Charles with her hand mirror, and the clumsy
attempts by girls to attract his attention.
She narrates, analyzes, and of course, ridicules what she sees.
Her approach? Trip the guy so he falls flat on his face.
her father’s line of “let’s be crooked, but never common”, she turns on
the charm at first just to get him to agree to a card game or two.
But there’s real chemistry in the air…you can sense it radiating from
every frame. By the time the con is
set, she no longer wants to go through with it, and he wants to marry her.
But before happily ever after can roll, he discovers the truth about her
of story? Not if Jean can help it.
Heartbroken at first, but later, determined to avenge herself, she goes
off on her own for the biggest con of her life, and the start of the
extraordinary second half of the picture. Most
of the plot hinges on the audience’s willingness to believe that Charles could
be stupid enough not to trust his own eyes, but so what?
There’s real magic at work here.
film made me laugh practically from start to finish, and when I wasn’t
laughing, I was always smiling. Sturges’
script is wonderfully funny, and he handles his characters with a comical
dignity, even when the normally sure Henry Fonda is required to spend much of
the film on his face (“That couch has been there 15 years,” his father
grumbles at one point, “and no one’s ever tripped over it before!”).
of the funniest moments are the most inconsequential. I howled at nearly every moment Eugene Pallette was on screen
as Mr. Pike. Watching him clamor
for his breakfast was completely over the top, in character, and hysterical.
Another good supporting performance comes from William Demarest as Mugsy,
the oafish heavy who has guarded Charles all his life, and seems determined to
protect him now, whether Charles wants him to or not!
as mentioned, the film really belongs to the two leads.
Fonda didn’t do many comedies in his career, but he displays a knack
for timing and rhythm in the kind of role most people wouldn’t normally think
of him playing. And Ms. Stanwyck is
superb…she lights up the picture from beginning to end.
She’s never looked more beautiful or radiated such appeal…not to
mention the comic range she shows!
Lady Eve became
known as a “screwball” comedy (as Peter Bogdanovich points out in the intro,
that word was used because audiences tended to recoil at the word “farce”),
and became the kind of film Sturges earned a reputation for creating.
He was considered the first writer to cross over into directing, and 1941
was a terrific year for him, having made both this movie and Sullivan’s
Travels. Some publications at
the time picked Eve as best film of the year, even over Citizen Kane!
years later, it’s just as charming and effervescent as ever.
It makes no heavy handed plays at relationships, the differences between
men and women, or the forces that bring them together or break them up.
It’s merely a whimsical look at two people who come together under
dubious circumstances that can’t erase the fact that they simply belong with
one another. Adam gets his rib
back, one way or another.
the film’s age, this is a very satisfying transfer from Criterion.
The only real flaws are the occasional print problem, not with the
digital presentation. Such flaws
aren’t prominent, merely noticeable in the form of the occasional flicker,
spot or scratch (and for one period of only a few seconds, a bit of jumping in
the frame). But overall, the black
and white photography is remarkably clean and maintains good detail, with no
murkiness or undue grain to spoil the effects of the image.
single channel mono track is clean and clear…as the film focuses mainly on
dialogue, that’s what counts the most. There
is not much in the way of dynamic range or effects, but they aren’t missed.
is another stellar package from Criterion, one that starts with an enthusiastic,
interesting and informative commentary track by film scholar Marian Keane.
She is a self-admitted lover of the movie, and offers plenty of thoughts
on the actors, Sturges, and why the picture has remained a favorite for so long. There is also the aforementioned introduction by Peter
Bogdanovich, which is fairly short but insightful into the movie and its genre.
A personal favorite of mine is the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of The
Lady Eve, hosted by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Barbara Stanwyck opposite
Ray Milland. It runs 45 minutes,
and you can turn your TV off and just enjoy listening the way audiences did back
in 1942. It’s a real treat.
out the extras are a look at some of Oscar winner Edith Head’s terrific
costume designs, a scrapbook of publicity materials and stills, and the
re-release trailer. A terrific set