We’re back again for more time with Barbara Stanwyck (our Star Of The Month), and this time, it’s her classic 1941 screwball comedy The Lady Eve, also starring Henry Fonda!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Jet Pink (1967)
(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 (1966-1968) from Kino Lorber)
(Length: 6 minutes, 3 seconds)
When the Pink Panther walks onto an experimental aircraft base, he decides to try becoming a famous pilot. This one isn’t quite as much fun as some of the others. Once he gets into the aircraft, it’s then a minute or two mainly of the aircraft going everywhere of its own accord. The short doesn’t really manage to be that funny until he accidentally presses some buttons and gets himself ejected (and then finds out he can fly by himself for a moment before he lands back on the ground). As I said, it has its moments, but this one feels more like one of the lesser efforts for relying too much on the same joke.
And Now For The Main Feature…
After spending a year in the Amazon as part of an expedition, Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) is ready to return home on an ocean liner. As the heir to the Pike’s Ale fortune, he quickly catches the eye of every female on the ship. Among them is con artist Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), who is traveling with her father (also a con man), “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn). While they are at dinner, Jean trips Charles, and starts to work her charms on him (so that she and her father can con him out of his money). Her charms work, as he starts to fall hard for her. Much to her surprise, Jean starts to fall for him as well, and has to keep her father from swindling him at cards. Things are starting to look good for Charles and Jean, but his friend (and bodyguard) Ambrose “Muggsy” Murgatroyd (William Demarest) distrusts Jean and the Colonel, and finds out that they are well-known as being cons. Muggsy reveals this information to Charles before Jean can tell him the truth, and Charles breaks things off, breaking Jean’s heart (although she finds some solace in a big check from Charles that she had previously stopped her father from cashing in). At a horse race, Jean and her father run into a con man friend of theirs, Pearly (Eric Blore) (although he is currently going by the alias Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith). When she hears that Sir Alfred knows the Pike family, Jean starts making plans to come visit as his “niece” under the name Lady Eve Sidwich. The Pikes end up throwing a party to welcome Sir Alfred’s niece. There, Charles is once again smitten with her. Muggsy keeps trying to tell him that Lady Eve and Jean are one and the same, but Charles believes that their extremely similar appearance means they can’t possibly be the same person. He falls for “Eve,” and after a while, they get married. However, on their honeymoon trip, Charles gets increasingly jealous and angry as he learns about some of “Eve’s” numerous past relationships, until he decides to get off the train and divorce her. Later on, she feels sorry and wants to get back together, but he won’t have anything to do with her. Can Jean get him to come back to her, or will her heart be forever broken?
When they met on the set of Remember The Night, writer Preston Sturges promised to write actress Barbara Stanwyck a screwball comedy (a genre she wasn’t exactly being cast in due to her screen image). Being that he had decided that that would be the last film he would write (and not direct), he convinced Paramount Studios to let him direct his next script, The Great McGinty (for very little pay). When that and his second film, Christmas In July, turned out to be hits, he was given a bigger budget to work with. He had actually come up with the screenplay for The Lady Eve as early as 1938 (but kept it to himself), and later made changes, utilizing aspects of the story “Two Bad Hats” by Monckton Hoffe, and tailoring it to Barbara Stanwyck’s talent. It took a bit of convincing the studio executives to go for Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda over other actors actually on Paramount’s payroll, but he did it, just the same. The movie turned out to be a hit with audiences and critics, and has become one of Preston Sturges’ best-known films. Paramount tried to remake the film as The Birds and the Bees in 1956, but, without the writer/director (or the cast), that film version failed.
The Lady Eve is a movie that I’ve been hearing about for the last few years, with a lot of high praise being thrown its way. Well, this year I finally got the chance to see it (heck, I’ve actually been able to see it twice this year!), and I will say that it lives up to the hype! Barbara Stanwyck in particular proved that she is indeed quite adept in a screwball comedy. As a scorned con artist, she proves that she can easily fool her intended target (and, quite frankly, if it weren’t for the scenes where her “Eve” is out of character, we the audience would be hard-pressed to figure out whether the two ladies are the same person or two completely different people). I know I enjoyed watching her try to outplay her own father at cards to keep him from taking all of Henry Fonda’s Charles’ money, or seeing her later drive him nuts when her Eve reveals all her “prior relationships” to Charles to make him jealous!
But Barbara Stanwyck is not the only standout in this film, either! Henry Fonda is also amusing, in between all his trips and falls, or being seduced by Barbara Stanwyck’s Jean. As his ever-suspicious friend and bodyguard, William Demarest also manages to be hilarious, especially since he realizes that Barbara Stanwyck’s Jean and Eve are the same person (yet can’t convince anybody else). Eric Blore also adds to the fun as another con (although he’s not in the film as much as I would have preferred). Seriously, this is a wonderful film with a well-deserved reputation as one of the best screwball comedies, and for that reason alone, comes highly, HIGHLY recommended from me!
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… The Lady Eve (1941)
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection from a new 4K transfer taken from a 35 mm fine-grain master positive. Overall, the movie looks pretty good. It has some minor issues that keep it from being perfect, but the reality is that the film was held back for a long time on Blu-ray because they were searching for some potentially better elements, but there were none to be found. So, instead of continuing to search for a closer equivalent of perfection, they went with the film elements that were in the best shape. I personally am thrilled with what we got, and would certainly recommend this release as the best way to see this fantastic screwball comedy!
Film Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
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List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Remember The Night (1940) – Barbara Stanwyck – The Great Man’s Lady (1942)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) – Henry Fonda – Mister Roberts (1955)
The Mark Of Zorro (1940) – Eugene Pallette – It Ain’t Hay (1943)
Music In My Heart (1940) – Eric Blore – Road To Zanzibar (1941)