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Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Lady Eve

Only my commitment to you my readers even got me to write a review of The Lady Eve, a 1941 Preston Sturges comedy, which I watched today. That and something I recently read on Roger Ebert's website. Ebert was talking with director Robert Altman about how he hated to write bad reviews, because he knew how much hard work went in to films. Altman said, "Yes, but without the bad reviews, what do your good reviews mean?"

The Lady Eve features Henry Fonda as Charles Pike, a gullible, good-natured snake scientist on his wat back to America by cruise ship after a year in the Amazon, who happens to be the heir to a brewery fortune. ("Pike's Pale, the Ale that won for Yale" which is mildly funny when repeated.) The female lead is Barbara Stanwyck, looking very lovely as a fellow passenger and con artist intent on bilking Fonda out of his money. Naturally, as this is a movie, she winds up falling for him instead, only her con-artist partner (her father, the phony Colonel Harrington) won't let Fonda off easy.

The boat part of the film is largely unfunny and rather dull, with the only comic moment coming during a poker game where Colonel Harrington tries to cheat Fonda, only to have Stanwyck thwart his every attempt.

Since this is a romantic comedy, there are somewhat arbitrary and unlikely complications that break Fonda and Stanwyck apart, and she overreacts and decides to get revenge. She does this by sneaking into the Pike mansion in the guise of an English noble-woman (The Lady Eve).

The film goes to great lengths to get us to accept that Fonda believes that this Lady Eve isn't the girl he almost married on a cruise ship, but it just makes his character look like a dope in the process. (William Demarest, a staple of Preston Sturges movies, is great as the friend who does realize the two are the same and won't shut up about it.)

The scenes on land are much better than the boat parts of the movie, but even still, the movie is too reliant on cheap physical comedy (Fonda falls several times) and the film's resolution is slapdash and leaves several gaping holes in the flimsy plot. Stanwyck and Fonda both act in extremely unbelievable fashions, and their eventual reunion feels unnatural and false.

The Lady Eve is my third Preston Sturges movie (out of the seven in the collected set my father gave me) and so far I've only liked 1 out of 3 (The Great McGinty, which is about dishonest politicians). This movie gets a 4.9 out of 10.

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