The Lady Eve

Movie Information

In Brief: Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve (1941) marked the writer-director’s move into the realm of the full-blown A picture with A-list stars — Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck — and the Paramount high gloss his first two films had lacked. The result was one of Sturges’ most popular films and probably as close as he ever allowed himself to get to a traditional romantic comedy. Of course, traditional is a very elastic term, and this isn’t your standard rom-com — even of that somewhat more sophisticated era. It’s the story of a babe-in-the-woods herpetologist (Fonda) who falls in love — via a shipboard romance — with the daughter (Stanwyck) of a professional card sharp (Charles Coburn). When he finds out the truth about her, he breaks things off, so she decides to get even by masquerading as the Lady Eve Sidwich, getting him to fall for her again, marry her and then … well, that’s best left to the film itself. I’ve never kept track, but I suspect that Henry Fonda takes more pratfalls in this one film than in the entire rest of his career. And each one is funnier than the last.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Preston Sturges
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest, Eric Blore
Rated: NR



While it’s not my favorite Preston Sturges film, The Lady Eve belongs high on the list of any serious film fan — especially those interested in comedy. Sturges had written his share of romantic comedies — his screenplay for William Wyler’s The Good Fairy (1935) is pure delight — and his previous film, Christmas in July (1940), was more or less a romantic comedy, but the romance is subordinate to a variety of othere issues. The Lady Eve is pure romantic comedy — Sturges style. That’s to say that it has the elements of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses, girl, etc. But Sturges, being Sturges, handles it all in surprising — and still fresh — ways — including the addition of a good deal of physical comedy. It’s always wise to remember Sturges’ belief that “a pratfall is better than anything,” but never more so than here. But there’s more.




The simple mechanics of the genre have been complicated almost beyond recognition. The traditional “meet cute” not only involves, yes, a pratfall, but it’s all engineered by card sharp Jean Harrington (Stanwyck) in order to fleece rich clueless boob, Charles “Hopsy” Pike (Fonda), heir to the Pike’s Ale (“The ale that won for Yale”) fortune. Just following the formula doesn’t interest Sturges. He’s determined to make that formula his own — and he succeeds. Not only are all the elements there, but they’ve been enhanced and embellished. Boy will not only lose girl, but before he can win her back, he’ll be taught a lesson by the most unbelievable charade imaginable. And, of course, the film is filled with character actors — Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest, Eric Blore, Melville Cooper, Luis Alberni — and his usual array of stock company bit players — Robert Greig, Al Bridge, Frank Moran, Julius Tannen, Robert Warwick — and they all get to spout that wonderful Sturges dialogue. It’s fast, it’s funny, and somehow it manages to be incredibly romantic in the bargain.

The Asheville Film Society will screen The Lady Eve Tuesday, March 31, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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4 thoughts on “The Lady Eve

  1. Harry Long

    I’m not sure which Sturges comedy is my favorite (possibly the wonderfully daffy THE PALM BEACH STORY) but the cast alone here guarantees that THE LADY EVE is very close to the top.
    Out of curiosity what’s your favorite?

    • Ken Hanke

      I have a strangely high regard for Christmas in July, but that doesn’t mean it’s my favorite exactly. The things I like about it are not entirely comedic in nature — much like Sullivan’s Travels, but on a simpler level. I’d probably say that The Palm Beach Story is the funniest with Unfaithfully Yours closely behind. It’s easier to tell you my least favorites (of the ones in serious contention) — Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero.” The lead actors in both are hard to get past.

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