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>
OK so the plot of The Lady Eve doesn't make a lot of sense, but why should it? It's fast, funny, and offers two great stars--Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda--great roles. Although both stars were better known for their dramatic roles, Fonda and Stanwyck breeze thru this romp in classic style.
Fonda plays a rich goofus who falls for Jean (Stanwyck) onboard an ocean liner but she turns out to be a crook so he dumps her. To get even, she pretends to be the British Lady Eve and crashes his Connecticut manor. He falls for her again.
Surprisingly racy lines for a 1941 comedy and a totally wonderful supporting cast make this a must see. Charles Coburn plays Stanwyck's father. Eugene Palette and Janet Beecher are Fonda's parents. William Demarest is the valet. Eric Blore is the faux earl. Melville Cooper is Coburn's valet. Robert Greig is the butler. Torben Meyer is the purser, and Martha O'Driscoll is a maid. The film is full of other faces familiar from Preston Sturges comedies: Jimmy Conlin, Al Bridge, Julius Tannen, Robert Warwick, and Robert Dudley. Also look for Bess Flowers, Barbara Pepper, and Luis Alberni.
First and foremost, however, are Stanwyck and Fonda. They made 3 films together and they are perfect Sturges types. He is still and gawky but basically good. She is slightly bad and sexy but basically good. It would be easy to replace Fonda in this film with another Sturges favorite, Joel McCrea, or replace Stanwyck with Veronica Lake (the star's of his Sullivan's Travels) and this would have been a good film. But Fonda and Stanwyck make this edgier than Lake and McCrea could have made it. Indeed if Fonda had been the star of Sullivan's Travels, that film would be in the top ten on all film fans' lists.
But The Lady Eve is just terrific. It's a comedy that runs hot on pacing, great lines, and the charisma and chemistry of two major stars. How odd that this classic comedy received only one Oscar nomination--for writing. Preston Sturges would be nominated for writing 3 times and win for The Great McGinty. He was never nominated as a director. The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, The Palm Beach Story, Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and Hail the Conquering Hero remain cornerstones of 40s comedy.
The Lady Eve is a must see for fans of great comedy and the likes of Sturges, Stanwyck, and Fonda!
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