The Lady Eve – Screwball Comedy Has Never Been Sexier!
Wickedly Funny, Tremendously Romantic, and Very Sexy!
The Lady Eve is one of those films you fall in love with the first time you see it – and then you love it more on each successive viewing.
The plot of The Lady Eve seems simple: Returning from a year down the Amazon studying snakes, the naive, socially awkward but tremendously rich Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) meets gorgeous, seductive con-artist Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) on a ship. He falls in love – and she says she does – but before we find out for sure, they have broken up. And watch out for the wrath of a lady scorned – especially if she is a master schemer! To get back at him, Jean disguises herself as an English lady, and comes back to seduce him again.
Several factors make “The Lady Eve” dizzyingly delicious.
First, the dialogue is hilarious, sophisticated, and almost always working on several levels to advance the story, promote the comedy, and delight the audience. Honesty leads to love, love leads to dishonesty, dishonesty leads to love–a difficult balance, but in the masterful hands of Preston Sturges, a completely captivating one. Billy Wilder is famous for having a great, memorable last line end his films. “The Lady Eve” finishes on a line worthy of Wilder!
Throughout The Lady Eve, double entendres fill the air:
Charles Pike: Do you think they’re dancing anyplace on board?
Jean Harrington: Don’t you think we ought to go to bed?
Charles Pike: You’re certainly a funny girl for anybody to meet who’s just been up the Amazon for a year.
Jean Harrington: Good thing you weren’t up there two years.
Second, the sheer audacity of Jean’s plan is a remarkable invention, one that will always lead to a lot of discussion. After being dumped, she reappears in the life of her mark, but claims to be another woman. Her only “disguise” is a British accent and a different hairdo. Pike’s response is both logical and illogical at the same time:
Charles Pike: They look too much alike to be the same.
Third, every performance in the film is letter perfect. The supporting cast, particularly William Demarest as a suspicious right-hand man, Charles Colburn as Jean’s unscrupulous but not altogether unsympathetic father, and the hilarious Eugene Pallette as the warmhearted but clueless father of Charles Pike, are exceptionally memorable
Henry Fonda, not generally known for comedy, is hilarious as the pratfall prone, snake loving heir.
However, it is Barbara Stanwyck’s deft performance as scheming Jean and lovely Eve that makes the film much more than just a raucous screwball comedy. Many actresses could play “tough girl with a heart of gold” roles. What Stanwyck could do, better than anybody, was to embody both a “bad girl” and a “good girl” at the same time. All the more remarkable is her ability in this film to do it in both personae.
Worldly, cold-hearted con artist Jean has a vulnerable side and lovely, lilting Lady Eve can be sarcastic and dismissive. One line of the brilliant Preston Sturges’ dialogue sums up this dichotomy:
Jean Harrington: You see, Hopsi, you don’t know very much about girls. The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.
At his best, Preston Sturges made films that simply nobody else could make. “The Lady Eve” constantly brushed up against the wrath of the censors with its bold double entendres and one of the sexiest seduction scenes ever filmed in a comedy.
By making Pike not without vices and Jean/Eve not without virtues, Sturges constantly confounds and intrigues, teases and delivers. Watch it. And then watch it again. And see how it manages to get better every time you watch!