The Lady Eve

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) is a beautiful con artist. Along with her equally larcenous father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn) and his partner Gerald (Melville Cooper), she is out to fleece rich, naive Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), the heir to the Pike Ale fortune (“The Ale That Won for Yale”). Pike is a woman-shy snake expert just returning from a year-long expedition up the Amazon. Though surrounded by ladies desperate for his attention, Charles is putty in Jean’s hands.

But even the best laid plans can go astray. First, Jean falls hard for Pike and shields him from her card sharp father. Then, when Pike’s suspicious minder/valet Muggsy (William Demarest) discovers the truth about her and her father, Pike dumps her. Furious at being scorned, she re-enters his life masquerading as the posh “Lady Eve Sidwich”, niece of Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith (Eric Blore), another con man who’s been swindling the rich folk of Connecticut. Jean is determined to torment Pike mercilessly, as she explains, “I’ve got some unfinished business with him—I need him like the axe needs the turkey.”

When Pike meets “Eve”, he is so bewildered he constantly trips and falls over himself. Although Muggsy tries to convince him “she’s the same dame”, Pike reasons that Jean would never come close to his home without at least disguising herself, so he concludes the resemblance is only a coincidence. After a brief courtship, they marry, and on the train to their honeymoon, “Eve” begins to confess her past, dropping name after name after name of old boyfriends and lovers. Pike finally gets fed up and jumps off the train.

Now separated, Jean’s con team urges her to close the deal, saying she’s got him over a barrel and can make a killing in a settlement. While Charles’ father and lawyers are on the phone with her pleading to settle quickly, Jean says she doesn’t want any money at all, just for Pike to tell her it’s over to her face. Pike refuses, and through his father Jean learns that he’s departing on another ocean voyage. She arranges her own passage, and “bumps into” Pike, just as they met before. “Hopsie” is overjoyed to see Jean again, and they instantly dash to her cabin where they mutually affirm their love for each other. Charles confesses that he is married, and Jean replies tenderly, “So am I, darling.”

REVIEW:

For some reason, I wanted to watch Miracle on 34th Street this afternoon. That didn’t happen because Netflix only has a 45 min TV version of it. However, they have been trying to shove The Lady Eve down my throat for a couple of years now, based on my affinity for classic cinema, so I figured what harm could it do, right? I might even like it.

What is this about?

Seductive gold-digger Barbara Stanwyck and her conniving father (Charles Coburn) set out to fleece wealthy but naïve ophiologist Henry Fonda, the socially inept heir to a brewery fortune. But the tables turn when Stanwyck falls for her prey and Fonda gets wise to their scheme. Stanwyck then goes all-out to recapture Fonda’s heart in this raucous battle of the sexes from renowned writer-director Preston Sturges.

What did I like?

Luck be a lady. Usually, right about here is where I mention how hot the leading lady is. Barbara Stanwyck is no exception, but it is her acting that is the selling point and perhaps why this is widely regarded as her finest film. She plays the sexy vixen as well as her contemporary blonde bombshells and then flips the script to play a woman scorned, without missing a beat. Impressive, to say the least.

Innocence lost. While Stanwyck’s character is a “colored-up city woman”, her co-star and love interest, played by Henry Fonda, is going on a downward spiral from naïve ophiologist to someone who has had to curtain pulled back to reveal the truth. Personally, I preferred Fonda in the first half, but like Stanwyck the change in his character gives the film that extra bit of spice to keep things interesting.

What didn’t I like?

Train. Once we get to the train scene, which really should be the climax of the film, I suddenly lost interest. Why? I cannot tell you what the reason is. I imagine it was because it seemed to detach from the plot and change the tone of the film, and not in a way that worked for me.

Players. Other than our leads, I found it hard to determine who was who and what their relationship was to the goings on. Realizing that there is some deception going on made it a little easier, but I still wanted to know that this person is a friend of that person and they want to help them get rid of person x, for example.

The Lady Eve is a good example of what romantic comedies used to be. Everything that we say is wrong with these films these days was fixed back in the day. Watching this film, you get to see an example of actual talent on the screen in both starring and supporting roles, which results in a great, memorable film. I highly recommend it, so check it out!

4 out of 5 stars

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