“The Lady Eve” is one of the most intelligent, romantic, funny screwball comedies to grace the screen. Preston Sturges opened the door for other screenwriters, like Billy Wilder, who frustrated with directors messing with their work, wanted to direct their own scripts. Sturges had a great run making eight classic films, including “The Great McGinty”, “Christmas in July”, “Sullivan’s Travels”, “The Miracle of Morgan Creek”, “Hail, The Conquering Hero”, The Palm Beach Story”, “Unfaithfully Yours” and of course “The Lady Eve.” Sturges films were unique in blending sophisticated humor right along side laugh out loud slapstick. According to Peter Bogdonovich in an interview on the DVD of “The Lady Eve”, he states that the term screwball came from a comment made about Carole Lombard’s performance in “My Man Godfrey”, “That’s real screwball she played” and the term stuck for romantic comedies with farcical overtones. Well, “The Lady Eve” is a prime example of screwball. Barbara Stanwyck is Jean who along with her father (Charles Coburn) are card sharks looking for prey on the cruise ship heading back to the states. Henry Fonda is a rich naïve man named Charles Pike who is returning home after a year of studying snakes abroad and falls prey to Jean and her father’s card schemes. Only problem is Jean, did not plan to fall in love
Stanwyck and Fonda make a great team. They made three films together all comedies, which is pretty amazing since Fonda did not make that many comedies. “The Lady Eve” was the second film they made together; “The Mad Miss Manton” came first. These two are the cream of the threesome though “You Belong to Me”, their final film together is pleasant and worth seeing if for no other reason that to watch these two stars together.
Fonda manages to fall, trip, slide, and slip so many times that he seems to spend much of the film on the ground. My favorite scene is the seduction scene where Jean practically seduces Charles by continually twirling his hair while he is reclining on the floor getting more and more flustered. This is one of the most seductive and sexy scenes ever filmed. Both stars are just perfect. I was breaking out in a cold sweat just watching! What makes Fonda so effective is that he does not play it for laughs. He plays it straight and that makes it even funnier. Stanwyck is such a talented actress who can play both drama and comedy to perfection. She has a great scene where she is sitting in the dining room, of the ship, with her makeup mirror commenting on all the women who try to catch the shy rich Fonda’s eye who is sitting at another table reading a book. Only one year earlier Stanwyck worked on the Sturges scripted “Remember the Night” and he told Stanwyck at that time that some day he would write a screwball comedy for her. He kept his word.
As usual with Sturges there is a great supporting cast including Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette and William Demarest all who are wonderful. “The Lady Eve” is a film that is not be missed, well written and very funny.