SHANE (1953), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951). Although I didn't get around to seeing the first movie on my list until July, I've made up for lost time and think there's a good chance I'll complete watching the list by year's end.
This was the second film on my list written and directed by Preston Sturges, the other being SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS; coincidentally, both films were released in 1941. I liked THE LADY EVE a great deal more than SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS had some brilliantly funny moments, but THE LADY EVE was more consistently amusing, especially factoring in the depressing final third of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. While THE LADY EVE has moments of pathos, they're not shoveled on as in SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, and EVE is also more tightly constructed and better paced.
Of course, many classic film fans have already seen THE LADY EVE and are very familiar with the tale of a card-playing con artist named Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) who falls head over heels for her naive mark, Charles (Henry Fonda). Charles proposes almost instantly, but their romance is dashed when he finds out the truth about Jean. Then a few months later a member of the British nobility named Eve (Stanwyck again) sweeps into his life, and she looks an awful lot like Jean...
This is a very funny film with much to recommend it, starting with the brilliant performances of the two lead actors. Fonda is perfect as the gangly scientist who sits in the shipboard dining room reading ARE SNAKES NECESSARY? Despite his excessive naivete, it's also easy to see why Jean finds him so appealing. He's very handsome, and he's also a sincere straight shooter who is honest about his feelings.
This is one of Stanwyck's best performances, making the whirlwind Jean likeable and completely selling the audience on the sincerity of her feelings for Charles. There's a moment in a bar, after Charles has learned the truth about Eve's background, when a variety of emotions cross her face in a most remarkable way. She didn't need to say a line of dialogue for the audience to know exactly what she was thinking and feeling. It must also be said that this is one of the films in which Stanwyck was at her most beautiful, and her loveliness is complemented by a remarkable wardrobe designed by Edith Head.
I liked that the background music included two Rodgers and Hart songs from the great musical comedy LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932). Hearing "Lover" and "Isn't It Romantic?" in the background seemed to tie the two classic comic romances together. And speaking of connecting movies, Sturges' story penchant for marriages which aren't quite what they seem to be would appear again the following year in THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), multiplied several times over!
The cast also boasts two of the very finest supporting actors from screwball comedies, Eugene Pallette and Charles Coburn. Both are seen here in fine style, though I have to give the edge to Pallette for the scene where he crashes lids like cymbals while demanding his breakfast.
The members of the Sturges stock company are out in full force in this film, including William Demarest, Robert Greig, Eric Blore, Jimmy Conlin, Robert Warwick, and Frank Moran. Janet Beecher, Melville Cooper, Luis Alberni, and Martha O'Driscoll round out the cast. The film runs 94 minutes.
THE LADY EVE is available on a beautiful DVD from the Criterion Collection. It comes with a wealth of extras, including a commentary track and a Lux Radio broadcast starring Stanwyck and Ray Milland.
It's also on DVD as part of the Preston Sturges Collection, and it's had a release on VHS.
Amazon Prime members can stream THE LADY EVE at no additional cost. Netflix subscribers can watch this film via DVD or streaming.
The trailer is at IMDb.
This is a movie which will deserve repeat viewings, the better to soak up all the great dialogue and comedy bits. Highly recommended.