Blu-ray Review: The Lady Eve | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, January 22nd, 2021  

The Lady Eve

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Jul 30, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In retrospect, Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda might seem like an odd pairing for one of the most beloved screwball comedies of all time. Directed by Preston Sturges as the first of what would become a run of classics for Paramount Pictures, The Lady Eve has all the pratfalls, mistaken identities and swooning stars that made the subgenre such a hit in the late 30s and early 40s. But Sturges, one of Hollywoods’ earliest writer/directors, leavened even his goofiest films with a sense of genuine emotion and social awareness. In that respect, Stanwyck and Fonda were ideal choices for the leads of The Lady Eve, a film that maintains a raw emotional core amid escaped snakes, fake British accents and triple-cross card games.

Known for playing hardscrabble dames and conniving femme fatales, Stanwyck’s turn as Jean Harrington isn’t too far outside her wheelhouse. One half of a father-daughter con artist team, Jean is a seen-it-all cynic as only Stanwyck could play them, but Sturges’ sparkling script and Stanwyck’s natural gusto keep the character light and charming. It’s a smart move, lending extra counter-weight to the scenes of heart-wrenching drama. Likewise, Fonda is best remembered for his salt-of-the-earth hero roles like Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath and Juror Number 8 in 12 Angry Men. Charles “Hopsy” Pike, is humble and earnest as only a Fonda character can be, but his status as the heir to a brewery fortune - hence his nickname - makes him an object of bumbling ridicule in the eyes of the film. Fonda commits headlong, tripping over sofas, pulling down curtains and getting soup, coffee and an entire roast boar spilled on him at various points through the film. At one point he’s introduced in a tuxedo in a fancy dining room reading a book titled, “Are Snakes Necessary?”

Despite the zany tone, Sturges and his stars still find room to be sexy - at least, by 1941 standards - including a terrific scene where Stanwyck hugs Fonda’s head and carries on an entire conversation directly into his ear while Fonda manages to look like he’s simultaneously having the best and worst night of his life. Sturges also pads the supporting cast with a lineup of beloved character actors, including Charles Coburn as Jean’s urbane thief of a father, William Demarest as Hopsy’s dim-witted but street-wise valet, and frog-voiced Eugene Pallette as Hospy’s irritable father, all but reprising his role from My Man Godfrey.


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