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, marrying 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 funny.
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