The Lady Eve
The Criterion Collection
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Naturalist son of a wealthy tycoon comes out of the jungle after a year up the Amazon studying snakes. The games begin when, on board ship, he falls for a female cardsharp and they split on bad terms. Later she disguises herself and returns to tease and torment her former beau.
Criterion's digital transfer, created from a 35mm duplicate negative, is luminous and so sharp you can see the grain in the film. The commentary by film scholar Marian Keane is informed but academic and gets a bit cerebral as she extends her theme of role-playing to the entire film itself, constantly reminding us of the Hollywood machinery just out of frame. Peter Bogdanovich offers a more down-to-earth appreciation in his short video introduction, and James Harvey writes a lovely essay in the accompanying booklet. The disc also features the "Lux Radio Theater" adaptation performed by cast members Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Coburn (Ray Milland takes the Fonda role), Edith Head's costume designs with written comments from her memoirs (in which she describes her doomed efforts to create clothes for the snake!), stills and publicity materials, and the trailer. --Sean Axmaker
- New digital transfer
- Video introduction by writer-director Peter Bogdanovich
- Edith Head costume designs
- Scrapbook of original publicity materials and production stills
- 1942 broadcast of the Lux Radio Theater adaptation, performed by Barbara Stanwyck & Ray Milland
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Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) is a con artist. Along with her father, "Colonel" Harrington (Charles Coburn) and his partner Gerald (Melville Cooper), she targets a very naive rich young man, Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), son of beer magnat Horace Pike (Eugene Pallette). The crooks, posing as rich passengers, attack their prey on board of a liner... They initially want just cheat Pike in a game of cards, but soon Jean sees a better opportunity. I will not say more about the story to avoid spoilers.
The film is well directed, actors did a great job, there are some clever one liners and also some good moments of humour. However I couldn't really enjoy all the treasures of this film, because of some fundamental flaws in the scenario.
The first problem I have with this film is that the main male character, Charles Pike, is a pathetic moron, so insanely stupid, clueless and hapless, that the only thing one can feel towards him is pity mixed with contempt. How can you make anybody believe that any woman can spend her life with such a man without deep inside despising him? The man is cheated three times by the same people, in exactly the same way, without even really realising it! I didn't find the complete destruction of this character funny - at all.
The main female character on another hand is a very, very clever person but she is also a cold, calculating, merciless reptile, with a sadistic streak. The result of pairing such a woman with a man who has the wits and conscience of a 5 years old boy is not romantism - it is actually embarassing...
The third reason why I didn't like the film is the sympathetic way in which con artists are portrayed. It shocked me. Con artists are not a joking matter and showing them as "cool guys" who win at the end and everybody is happy is not a good thing - those people cause real damage and pain. Using them as comedy characters is a good idea, but letting them completely off the hook at the end and leaving them smiling and counting their loot is, for me, a disturbing thing. There is fair and then there is not fair.
Finally, there is the ending and the conclusion of the film, which I found as INSANELY WRONG as possible. In fact it INFURIATED ME! Bad people win, big time and a honest (although stupid) man is left without honor, with the stain of being f...ed three times by the same person all over his body and mind. I found the ending HATEFUL. I will not keep the DVD. The film presents some interest as part of the cinema history, but me at least, I didn't have much fun weatching it.
In particular, Barbara Stanwyck, but I'll get to her in a minute.
The film tells the story of Jean and her father Harry, professional card players who board a cruise ship in hopes to swindle money off of Charles Pike, heir to his father's ale (not beer) fortunes. Things get complicated when Charles falls in love with Jean. Things get even more complicated when Jean falls in love with Charles.
The film has it's fair share of clichés, but the material is so rich with witty dialog and thick comedic timing that you forgive the familiarity with the plot (they fall in love, they fight, they reunite) and the redundancy of some of the gags (Fonda falls an awful lot). Helping you `forgive' is Sturges's steady directorial hand. He really uses his actors and his surroundings effortlessly, and he penned the script, so he makes effort to push the envelope so-to-speak, creating something that feels edgy as apposed to safe. In this way, he helps stretch himself out of the box, away from any easy comparisons to other films of this nature.
But this film would have been nothing without actors who understood how to make this film something special. Henry Fonda is perfectly doting as Charles Pike. He bleeds of pure desperation as he pines over Jean, the sultry woman who won't just give herself to him. Is it just me or does he look a little heavier here than in most of his other films? I don't mean overweight, but it was nice to see his face looking fuller. Most films I've seen with Fonda, he looks almost too thin. Charles Coburn is delightful as Harry, Jean's father, and Pallette is believably smitten as Horace, Charles father.
And yes, William Demarest has some of the best lines in the film.
But, in the end there can only be one real standout here, and that is undoubtedly Barbara Stanwyck. I'm going to just say this right here and now; this is one of the best performances of all time; period. Stanwyck writes the book on witty, charismatic, charming, seductive and endearing. She is the perfect tease, and she teases the audience as much as she teases Fonda. Her comedic timing is outstanding, expertly finding the depth of each gag, and she never once misses a beat when it comes to displaying the emotional side of her characters journey. You believe her, every step of the way.
With an ending that nearly had me cheering, `The Lady Eve' is a near pitch-perfect comedy that will keep you thoroughly entertained!