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W.S. Van Dyke
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Returning from a year up the Amazon studying snakes, the rich but unsophisticated Charles Pike meets con-artist Jean Harrington on a ship. They fall in love, but a misunderstanding causes them to split on bad terms. To get back at him, Jean disguises herself as an English lady, and comes back to tease and torment him. Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
In this period of Henry Fonda's career, most of the good films was stuff he made away from his studio at 20th Century Fox. The Lady Eve is one of the best examples of that,
With the success that Preston Sturges had with Christmas in July and The Great McGinty the year before, Paramount decided now they could trust Sturges with a big budget and an A list pair of leads. In fact they borrowed Henry Fonda from Darryl Zanuck and signed the then freelancing Barbara Stanwyck.
This was a banner year in the career of Barbara Stanwyck. She did Meet John Doe, The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire in the same year, the last one she got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The Lady Eve came first and paved the way for a similar role in Ball of Fire.
She's a street smart dame in both films, in the Lady Eve she's a shill for her conman father Charles Coburn and in Ball of Fire she's a nightclub singer and moll for gangster Dana Andrews. In both films she falls for rather withdrawn, naive, and bookish sort of men who bring out the mother instinct in her. In fact she has similar nicknames for them, Gary Cooper is called Pottsie and Henry Fonda is Hopsie.
Stanwyck, Coburn, and Melville Cooper are a trio of con artists who are looking for a fresh pigeon and they find one in Henry Fonda who is a millionaire's kid. Fonda today would be called a trust fund baby, but he has an interest in science and he's coming back from the Amazon on a boat when meets up with the slick trio.
Of course Stanwyck falls for the shy and bumbling Fonda, but there are many hurdles to overcome before these two find happiness.
This may have been Henry Fonda's best comedy part. And like Joel McCrea in other Preston Sturges films, Fonda does so well in the part because he plays it absolutely straight. No tongue in cheek, no winks at the audience, Fonda plays it straight and sincere.
The usual Preston Sturges stock company is here and prominent in the cast is always William Demarest as the mug that is a kind of bodyguard factotum for Fonda. Hired of course by Eugene Palette in another one of his crotchety millionaire father roles.
Best scene in the film is right at the beginning as Stanwyck analyzes all the moves a lot of the other females on board are using to attract Fonda before she decides on a very direct approach.
The Lady Eve holds up very well as do all of Preston Sturges's work after over 60 years. I do kind of wonder though if Stanwyck can control that streak of larceny in her even though she's marrying a millionaire who can give her anything.
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