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THE LADY EVE (1941)

The Lady Eve - Cover'The Criterion Collection' have recently released a digitally enhanced version of ‘The Lady Eve’. It was directed by Preston Sturges; it starred Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, and William Demarest; and it lasts for 94-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with audio commentary narrated by the film professor, Marian Keane, an introduction by the filmmaker, Peter Bogdanovich, a new round table discussion focused on Sturges’s filmography, the 1942 radio adaptation broadcast by the ‘Lux Radio Theatre’, an audio recording of “Up the Amazon”, as well as two related featurettes. Please enjoy.


The Lady Eve (The Criterion Collection)


THE STORY:
Hey, 'Colonel' (Charles Coburn). Take a look over there. Go on, take a look at all of those silly, silly women, trying their best to entice that handsome, young stranger who has recently joined our cruise. Now according to the ship’s steward, his name is Charles (Henry Fonda), Charles Pike, and by all accounts, he’s a fairly wealthy explorer who’s currently returning home after a long expedition up the Amazon.

But as far as I’m concerned? Well, to me, Jean, the captivating con-artist (Barbara Stanwyck), he’s just another chump I can seduce in order to scam him out of some money. Most of his money, give or take a few bucks, but only if I don’t fall for him first. Then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes, Kiss, Slap, Ka-Ching!, when a con-artist and a handsome, young stranger, suddenly fall in love. As a scam briskly flips upside down - a seductress wears an elegant ball gown - a married couple both learn how to frown - and at the end of the day, please remember, a quick trip overseas may end up in Cape Town.




THE REVIEW:
At face value, ‘The Lady Eve’ comes across as a screwball comedy that chronicles the numerous ups and downs of a female con-artist who accidentally falls in love with one of her victims. But upon closer inspection, it’s also a fairly subversive film as well. A subversive film where the ‘morals of the day’ were dramatically distorted because nobody is completely innocent and nobody is completely guilty. Not even if they seem that way when they initially pop onto the screen.

The Lady Eve - Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda
Well, when the adventure begins, we’re introduced to a cast of colorful characters who each have a different role to play within the larger scheme of things. But none more so than Charles, Charles Pike, who’s a fairly timid fellow that's rich, naive, and rather rigid in temperament. Along with Jean, Jean Harrington, who doesn’t seem to be that way at all. In fact, she’s the exact opposite, as she's reasonably close to her father and willing to break the law to thrive and survive. Not straight away, mind you, and not necessarily in such a straightforward manner, because as strange as it may sound, this story unfolds in a rather conventional (yet convoluted) fashion. 

You see, on a structural level, you can easily break things down into four uneven parts. Part One, basically served as a prologue of sorts, starting things off by telling us who’s who and what they intend to do within the confines of this adventure (cheat at cards, go home, or sail on a ship). Part Two, on the other hand, amped things up a bit by establishing ‘the romance’ between the two main leads, Jean and Charles, before briskly breaking them apart due to the revelation of her true status (can you trust a thief?). Similarly, Part Three continued from where the previous part left off. The only difference, though, is that in this case, one of the lovers -- namely, Jean -- attempts to get her revenge on her former partner by pretending to be someone else (i.e. Jean becomes Eve). And finally, Part Four can be defined as an unexpected epilogue. Or in other words, a quick conclusion, which left certain plot-threads unresolved, yet still provided us with a fairly satisfying finale.

The Lady Eve - Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda
Well, when I say ‘fairly’, I suppose what I mean by this is that from time to time the story seemingly became self-aware and questioned the motives and actions of certain characters. For instance, halfway through the movie, Charles decided to turn his back on Jean because he suddenly discovered that she’s a crook. ‘But why?’, he ultimately proclaimed. Why did he walk away from her so swiftly when he claimed to have loved her only the night before? I mean, did he truly love her? Or did he just say that at the time on account of him being away from women for so long? Also, where Jean’s concerned, why didn’t she disguise herself more convincingly when she attempted to get her revenge? (Aside from her fake English accent, of course, which was pretty good and seemed slightly authentic) After all, she must have known that Charles would be able to recognize her! ‘Or was that the point?’, implied one of her cohorts. Did she want him to recognize her? Hoping that his recognition would rub salt into the wound, so to speak, and make him ponder his earlier actions! Either way, here and there, motives are put to the test and characters aren’t so easy to predict. Sometimes for the good (a nice thief), sometimes for the bad (a judgmental gent), and sometimes for the damn right ugly (a spiteful marriage).

Now, when it comes down to the overall style of this film, and more or less, everything we see on screen can easily be placed in one of two categories. The visual category, which consisted of a series of nicely framed scenes that featured elegant attire, lavish ballrooms, grand landscapes, and more modest-looking living quarters. As well as the acoustic category, which included a selection of orchestral music that enhanced the mood and complemented the tale's underlying tone. I would also like to mention several impressively designed sequences that I genuinely thought stood out from the crowd. Most notably, the first dining room sequence, where Jean commented on Charles’s behavior while looking at him through her compact mirror, along with Jean’s numerous seduction scenes, because they were always very charmingly staged and fun to watch.


The Lady Eve - William Demarest and Henry Fonda


The Lady Eve - Film Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now is a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Paramount Pictures’ first released this $660,000 production in New York, New York, on the 25th of February, 1941. (2) Now depending on who you want to listen to, this film was either based on an original story written by Monckton Hoffe, called, ‘Two Bad Hats’, or alternatively, it was based on an original idea Preston Sturges came up with when he bumped into one of his ex-wives and didn’t recognize her. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled, ‘The Fraud’ in Austria, ‘A Heart Trapped’ in France, and ‘The Woman is Tempted’ in Greece. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘When you deal a fast shuffle... Love is in the cards’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside ‘Paramount Studios’, located in Hollywood, California, although a few scenes were shot nearby at the ‘Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden’. (6) During pre-production, Ray Milland, Joel McCrea, and Fred MacMurray, were each considered to play the part of Charles, whereas Paulette Goddard, Madeleine Carroll, and Claudette Colbert, were each considered for the role of Jean. (7) Henry Fonda once said that Barbara Stanwyck was his favorite leading lady, and in retrospect, that he learned an awful lot from her while they were both making this movie together, along with their other two collaborations, ‘The Mad Miss Manton’ [1938] and ‘You Belong To Me’ [1941].


The Lady Eve - Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda


The Lady Eve - Henry Fonda in mirror
In closing my review of ‘The Lady Eve’, I'm now going to rank each key performance in order of preference. So, at the top of my list, I’d like to select the two main stars of the show, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, because they both managed to portray their respective characters in a bold yet relatable fashion. After all, Henry played Charles as if he were a nervous nerd that thought too much but knew too little, while Barbara, on the other hand, depicted Jean/Eve as if she were a glamorous harpy who’s one part sexy, one part sinister, and one part slightly softhearted. Up next, I’d like to single out Charles Coburn and William Demarest. Although, in their case, I enjoyed their performances due to their supportive nature and their caricatured personalities: What with Charles playing 'The Colonel' as a shrewd, avuncular figure, whereas William played Muggsy as a down-to-earth stooge. And as for the rest of the cast? Or as I like to call them, ‘The Regular Preston Sturges Players’! Well, more or less, I’d say they each did a memorable job, especially Eugene Pallette (Mr. Pike), Eric Blore (Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith), and Melville Cooper (Gerald), on account of their cartoonish behaviors complementing their notable styles.

Anyway, all that aside, and on the whole, I would just like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film because the story was somewhat original, the performances were wonderful to watch, and all in all, the fundamental message behind this flick ultimately made sense. Question everything and don’t take things at face value.

THE RATING: A

THE LADY EVE (1941) THE LADY EVE (1941) Reviewed by David Andrews on August 10, 2020 Rating: 5

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