Friday, November 18, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Lady Eve (1941)

Tonight it was time to check another movie off the list I made of 10 unseen classics to watch in 2011. No. 6 watched from my list was THE LADY EVE. It follows 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.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

This is such a wonderful movie. So many terrific moments. I love when he discreetly covers her leg with her clothing and she deadpans, "Thank you." Some things you can't script so perfectly, they have to be in the actors.

4:58 AM  
Blogger Melissa Clark said...

Great review! "The Lady Eve" is one of the movies that made me a huge fan of Barbara Stanwyck. She's just fantastic in her role -- hilarious, and so gorgeous, too. I especially love her scenes with Charles Coburn.

"Lover" and "Isn't It Romantic?" turn up in lots of Paramount movies of the '40s and '50s. The studio owned the rights to those songs, so it pretty much jammed them in wherever possible, rather than paying for new or different music. They're also featured in "Sabrina" and "A Foreign Affair," among others.


4:58 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You are so right about the repeat viewings. "The Lady Eve" seems to get greater each time. Preston Sturges turned the typical romantic comedy on its head with his own brand of cynicism, but still manages to retain just a hint of sentiment. There is no doubt the man was a genius.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I enjoyed all of your comments -- it's fun to bask in the afterglow of a good movie by chatting about it with others. :)

Speaking of great acting, one of the things that impressed me was something pointed out by Peter Bogdanovich in his introduction on the Criterion DVD -- how many of the scenes are played in very long, uninterrupted master/two-shots. The actors simply do their thing for the camera, no editing required, and the viewer is right there with them.

Best wishes,

9:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

MC, thanks for that great bit of trivia about Paramount having the rights to the Rodgers & Hart songs. Love that! I'll be listening for them in other Paramount films.

Best wishes,

11:23 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is one of my all-time favorite movies - certainly my favorite Sturges movie (though I do like Sullivan's Travels more than you did!). I pretty much love Stanwyck in everything, but she's at her absolute best here. And I covet her wardrobe SO MUCH. I rarely notice costume design in movies, frankly, but I love everything she wears in this one. And the Sturges stock company has never been better. I rewatch it at least every year or so. Sometimes the train scene gets a bit shrill for me, but I just have to let myself go to it, and it's fine.

Jacqueline, that moment was totally improvised. It's wonderful how perfectly Barbara stays in character and makes that one of the best parts of the film.

12:56 PM  
Blogger monty said...

What a treat that you got to watch The Lady Eve Laura. It's one of my favorite movies.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

After this glowing review and great comments I was delighted to see the library has the Criterion DVD! I look forward to seeing it when it comes in. Can't believe I've ever missed this one.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to Jandy Stone and Monty for adding your comments -- Jandy, how great that the bit Jacqueline referenced was improvised. I'm looking forward to listening to the commentary track and learning more.

Irene, I'd love to know what you think of it! Enjoy. :)

Best wishes,

7:10 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I love it that it was improvised! Thanks for the info, Jandy.

4:19 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

Finally got the DVD from the library and what a delightful movie. I enjoyed hearing the comments by Peter B. first as it helped me enjoy the brilliance of the movie. And her wardrobe is to die for. My daughter who wasn't feeling well and loves old movies watched it with me. She was laughing and felt some of the scenes were quite bold for a 1941 movie - when he's in her cabin getting to know her at the beginning :))

9:43 PM  
Blogger Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Second card scene is my favourite in the film. Colonel Harrington is determined to clean Charles out. Jean is desperate to prevent a painful fleeing. They each pull tricks with cards to get the upperhand. Charles just wants to lose some money to make up for the cash he won the previous time they played. This is one of the funniest scenes I have watched in a long while.

6:56 AM  

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