Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Lady Eve (1941)

RATING: 8/10

It's hard to resist this romantic comedy from director Preston Sturges.

This 1941 effort with Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyk offers some very funny moments, a great love story and a generous dollop of slapstick. As film director Peter Bogdonavich notes in an introduction to the film, audiences would rarely see this much comedic effort from Fonda in another movie.


Colonel Harrington (Charles Coburn) and Jean (Stanwyk) are a father-daughter team of card sharks. They ride ocean liners and fleece well-to-do passengers of their riches. Their sights are set on Charles Pike (Fonda), the heir of a beer empire.

Charles doesn't much care for brewed hops. He's into snakes. Charles boards an ocean liner after spending a year on safari in the Amazon. His luggage includes a snake in a box. See any references to the Garden of Eden yet?


Plenty of ladies, young and old, try to catch Pike's attention in the ship's dining room. Jean watches, and comments, on their efforts before making sure Pike can't miss her when he walks by. She immediately kicks her seduction efforts into overdrive. Within minutes she has him in her cabin.

Charles is originally a target, but Jean finds herself really falling in love with him. The heir to beer is smitten too, until he learns Jean's background and figures he is being played for a dupe. Very quickly, his attitude turns ice cold. His marriage proposal is forgotten. He leaves the ship alone.


Jean, hurt badly, slips back into her role as dupster and finds an opportunity to get back into Pike's life. He falls for her again, this time as an English noble woman, not knowing it's his old love.

His handler, Muggsy (William Demarest), isn't fooled so easily, but his earnest warnings are ignored.

Jean, now Eve, is a big hit with Charles' father (Eugene Pallette) and other society folks. The younger Pike keeps tripping over furniture, and people, while being distracted with the fair dame.

A card game between Colonel Harrington, Jean and Charles is a gut-busting highight of this black and white film. Harrington is determined to clean out his rich competitor. Jean wants to prevent her new-found love from losing thousands of dollars. Dialogue between Harrington and Jean, and their respective slights of hands with a deck of cards, are standouts.

That's followed by Eve, now married to Charles, sharing details of her relationships with many other men on their wedding night. The train they're travelling on isn't the only thing blowing steam.


What a treat to have Coburn and Pallette in supporting roles. Coburn gets some delicious dialgoue. Pallette's businessman character wonders about his son while being delighted with Eve's introduction to the communityh. If Demarest looks familiar, he was Uncle Charlie in more than 200 episodes of the television show, My Three Sons, with Fred McMurray.

The Lady Eve also offers something of a rare sight for a film from Hollywood's Golden Age. The opening credits include an animated snake. It's hard not to get bitten by this film's appeal. Dig in.

No comments: