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September 11, 2011

The Lady Eve (1941)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 5:33 pm

       Preston Sturges’s Lady Eve is a delightful comedy that I thoroughly enjoy from the beginning to the end. The backdrop of an elegant cruise ship and the opulent mansion of New England were definitely vulnerable to the perpetual state of audacious adventure.  Barbara Stanwyck who played “Jean Harrington” the leading con lady of such wit and gregarious charisma (almost a resemblance of Catherine Keener) established herself as a force to be reckon with, her seductive prowess made it easy for her to manipulate the heart of the snake enthusiast [1] “Charles Pike”, played by Henry Fonda, a stoic yet somewhat of an innocent man that knows how to play his cards right (maybe).

On the S.S. Southern Queen traveling from South America, one marvelous scene that caught my eye was Jean holding up a mirror to spy at Pike, scrutinizing and performing a commentary by doing voice over for their fruitless attempt on persuading him. A scene of such caliber by Preston Sturges made me ask myself, why haven’t I watch any of his films before (except for half of “Sullivan’s Travels”(1941) on TCM during one of many endless nights, suffering from insomnia and paranoia). Jean finally caught the attention of her new lover/victim, they’re overwhelmed in each other’s arm and became infatuated with the idea of true romance, well maybe except for Jean whose goal is to swindle some of his money.

Cards are drawn from the poker deck and the game is on between Pike and Jean’s father, Colonel Harrington who is an assertive man that can operate at a higher level on the scheme of convict, demonstrated some of the most innovative ways of manipulating the winning hand, a remarkable performance by Charles Coburn that left a huge impression on me. After this pithy diversion of playing tricks, Jean felt it wasn’t right to trick Pike out of his pocket, since she is head over heels for him, thus reinforcing her father to cease from taking Pike’s loss. Meanwhile Muggsy (William Demarest) a condescending minder, found some unsettling photos of Jean discovering that she is a gold digger of a con-artist and only wants Pike for his money.

They go about their separate ways from having to hurt each other’s feeling, only to be reunited during a social gathering. Except the woman that Pike still had strong feelings for wasn’t Jean, it is Lady Eve Sidwich, a glamorous socialite with a distinct English accent (I couldn’t even distinguish between her English accent and an American one, I guess is because my ear is somewhat familiar with different variety of Anglophone). Sturges’s way of using characters to role-play, has certainly led me to believe his artistic craft in provoking excitement from the audience and flaunted some of the most extraordinary skills by creating an elaborative slapstick of a classic comedy, especially the scene with the horse (I’m no equestrian, however the way Fonda tamed that horse was hilarious).

In the end, they’re reunited just as they met before, only she is no longer Eve but Jean as Pike remembered. Sturge’s Lady Eve is a top notch screwball of a classic farce yet sophisticated in its own way, one film that I might consider on par with Sturge’s work is “Va Savoir+” (2001) directed by Jacques Rivette. Both represents the idealistic pageantry of the pratfall genre and does not come out as contrived as one would probably expect (maybe except for prospective action film directors).


[1] –,17866/

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  1. I find the scene where Jean holds up the mirror and spying on Tom fascinating. It took a couple on seconds for me on the screen to find out, that image was shown in Jean mirror. Though I’m not much a film historian, it must had been painstakingly crafted to do that, during that period in cinema. I never knew who Preston Strurges was until Prof. Herzog gave us the reading about his film career. From what I learned about him, he must have been a very humble man, who had a strange young life, but managed to create such great films like “The Lady Eve”. Watching the film reminded of The Three Stooges (anybody a fan?). The situations that Pike ended up with were very funny and Barbara Stanwyck’s performance was really great.

       Steven Rengifo — September 20, 2011 @ 11:58 am

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