Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Lady Eve (1941)

I slowly continue catching up on the Preston Sturges films I haven’t seen until now. THE LADY EVE is the first really big-budget movie he wrote and directed and the first with a couple of top stars, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck. Fonda plays a professor who specializes in snakes, but he’s also the heir to a fortune as the son of a brewery tycoon. Stanwyck is a beautiful con artist who works with her father, the great character actor Charles Coburn. Fonda and Stanwyck meet on a ship headed from South America to the United States, and Stanwyck sets her sights on Fonda as a potential mark. She gets him to fall in love with her, but things get complicated when she actually falls in love with him.

The plot takes a twist part of the way through that leads to an entirely different con game once the action moves back to the States and the luxurious estate of Fonda’s family. As always in a Sturges film, there’s a lot of fast, overlapping banter, absurd situations, and a hardboiled but still sentimental tone at the heart of things. This isn’t a hilarious movie, but it’s consistently amusing and the love story works really well, thanks to fine performances by Fonda and Stanwyck, who are both very likable. The supporting cast is outstanding, featuring not only Coburn but also William Demarest and Eugene Pallette, who’s great as Fonda’s father. I thought I caught a brief glimpse of Charles Lane as a lawyer, but this movie isn’t among his credits on IBDB, so I guess I was wrong about that. But it’s the kind of movie he could have been in!

Overall, I liked THE LADY EVE quite a bit. For some reason, I’ve always gotten it mixed up in my head with BALL OF FIRE, a Howard Hawks film from the same year that also stars Barbara Stanwyck, so I wasn’t sure if I’d seen it or not. I hadn’t, but I’m glad I’ve watched it now. It’s well worth the time.


pattinase (abbott) said...

A favorite of mine.

Rick Robinson said...

And of mine. I’ve seen it twice and would love to catch it again.