Spotlight on The Lady Eve
When I heard about the “Try It, You’ll Like It!” Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies Silently I thought long and hard about what picture I would choose to introduce someone to classic film. There are tons that I love but not all of them have universal appeal. Then it hit me. How about sharing the film that re-introduced me to my favorite genre?
I grew up on old movies, particularly musicals and loved them immensely. Then I became a teenager and decided I’d rather watch the latest blockbuster. In my heart I still loved the classics but on the outside I was all about Jurassic Park and Independence Day. One day I came across an ad in the paper for a screwball film festival soon to be held at the local university. From the description the movies sounded pretty fun so I grabbed my best friend and we went to catch a screening of something called The Lady Eve.
Little did I know that this picture would not only introduce me to the world of screwball comedy but also reignite my love of classic film and make me a lifelong Preston Sturges fan.
Preston Sturges was the first figure to be considered a “writer-director.” Sure, others had directed their own scripts before him but none were firmly established in the dual role. You were a screenwriter or you were a director. If you just happened to do both then good for you. But Preston Sturges WAS both. His greatest films – The Great McGinty, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and The Lady Eve were all written and directed by the man himself. Add to that the fact that they were all completed within a 5 year period AND considered some of the greatest comedies of all time makes him…well…a genius.
The Lady Eve came smack dab in the middle of Sturges’ Hollywood career and was released in 1941. Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda it tells a tale that’s almost too convoluted to describe. Here goes. Henry Fonda is an heir to a beer fortune (Pikes Pale – the ale that one for Yale) who’d rather spend his time researching reptiles on the Amazon than work in the family business. Barbara Stanwyck is a beautiful, whip smart con artist traveling the seas with her father (played by the incredible Charles Coburn) and business partner (played by Melville Cooper) duping folks out of their hard earned cash via card games. Through hilarious circumstances Fonda and Stanwyck meet at sea and soon fall in love.
Unfortunately, Fonda finds out about Stanwyck’s larcenous ways and that’s when the film really gets going. What follows is one of the most detailed, ingenious and completely ludicrous revenge plots that has ever graced the screen. To go into details would be to spoil it so let’s just say it includes a society party spoiled by a bumbling Fonda, a romantic interlude interrupted by an impatient horse, a train ride that turns a honeymoon into a living nightmare and a highly suspicious bodyguard played by the unforgettable William Demarest.
The Lady Eve is filled with laughs from start to finish and the best part is that the humor is timeless. This is one classic film that’s not simply a time capsule into a different age. Stanwyck is truly a modern woman who’s submissive to no man. She dominates the film with Fonda as her bumbling patsy. In the 1940’s this was a real role reversal which keeps the film relevant to today. Add in a sexual tension that you can cut with a knife and you’ve got a film that would appeal anyone in the 21st Century.
The Lady Eve – try it, you’ll like it!