The Lady Eve, 1941
Preston Sturges' comedy about falling in love with the same woman twice.
Preston Sturges wrote the Lady Eve screenplay especially for Barbara Stanwyck, and it's fashioned in such a way that she gets to play a variety of faces in the script (her character is a professional thief who by necessity uses false identities). But this isn't the plot, instead it's a simple love story: high-minded Henry Fonda (as Charles Pike, heir to a beer fortune but only interested in reptile research) meets Jean (Stanwyck) and her family of card-sharks and swindlers (Charles Coburn and Eric Bloor) aboard a cruise ship traveling from South America to New York City. They set out to fleece him, but as the scam progresses Jean falls for Pike. By then, he was already in love with her, but that was merely one of the steps toward separating him from his money. But, now that they're both in love, what should Jean do? Confess the truth about herself?
She means to do so, but before she can tell all, Pike's bodyguard (Muggsy, played by William Demerest) gets information about what Jean and her 'family' are actually doing aboard ship, and he lets Pike know. When Jean appears, she gets a load of condemnation and rebuke from the unforgiving Mr. Pike.
Deeply hurt, and apparently cured of her affection, she sets out to get even by posing as her own twin sister, the aristocratic English "Lady Eve" and restart the swindle she meant to perform earlier, and to add a great deal of revenge into the process.
This is one of Preston Sturges' best comedies (some say it is his best), and that's saying something considering Sturges is on the Mount Rushmore of Hollywood comedy writing with at least ten solid, classic comedy films to his credit as either a writer or a writer/director. Sturges uses a bit less onscreen commotion and noise to tell the tale in The Lady Eve, which is different from the more hectic comedy films he made during the same time period (Sullivan's Travels, Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, etc.)
Perhaps because of the excellent cast in The Lady Eve Sturges lets the performances have more space, and there's less obvious slides into outright slapstick (for example, Fonda completely unable to keep his white dinner jackets clean, tripping and stumbling from one disaster into another). There is an elegance and finesse in long sections of The Lady Eve that only shows up again in one other Sturges' film, and that's The Palm Beach Story (1942 - and that's also likely because of the cast: Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea).
Fonda and Stanwyck had worked together before The Lady Eve on the film The Mad Miss Manton (1938) which is a perfectly good screwball comedy about wealthy socialite ladies and police detectives solving a murder in tandem. Sturges' script for The Lady Eve takes that pairing much further and exploits not just Stanwyck's good looks and comedic timing, but also Fonda's. Letting Charles Pike stand up as a beautiful image of male dignity, wealth and intelligence, and then tearing the whole thing down, simplifies the screwball comedy ethos into one of it's base elements: that the wealthy should not be punished for being rich (or the poor for being poor), but arrogance will certainly be met with laughter and correction. As is the case when Pike, at the end of the film, has come through his education at the hands of "The Lady Eve" (Stanwyck) with a new whole new appreciation for the honesty of card-shark Jean (also Stanwyck), and practically tackles her when he sees her again aboard another cruise ship.
Barb Stanwyck and Eugene Pallette
Preston Sturges directed this story he wrote for Barbara Stanwyck in which she plays twin sisters (actually Jean and Eve are the same girl, something only William Demerest - as Muggsy - - suspects) and the "two" women proceed to drive Henry Fonda crazy twice, once for love, the second for revenge.
Eugene Pallette is on hand as Henry Fonda's father, Pallette being Mr. Pike, a wealthy ale manufacturer who can't understand his son's interest in reptiles and can't fathom the "Lady Eve's" interest in his son.
Of course it all works out once everyone is put through a comedic hell involving disastrous dinner parties and a tortuous Honeymoon on a train.
Charles Coburn ('Colonel' Harrington) is onscreen as Eve/Jean's erstwhile card-shark father, and Eric Blore lends help as the stylish British crook who accompanies the 'Colonel' on his con-man projects.
Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck [Illustrated with 310 Photographs] - amazon.com
Original Page October, 2014
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