Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Movies: The Lady Eve

Movie: The Lady Eve (1941)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Grade: B

Returning from a year up the Amazon studying snakes, the rich but unsophisticated Charles Pike meets con-artist Jean Harrington on a ship. They fall in love, but a misunderstanding causes them to split on bad terms. To get back at him, Jean disguises herself as an English lady, and comes back to tease and torment him.

A few days ago when hopping around the blogosphere I came across Dear Author's review of The Lady Eve and was intrigued.  I'm a big fan of 1940's romances and screwball comedies, and also a lover of Barbara Stanwyck.  Reading the review I realized, "hey I've seen this before!" but for some reason only the second half, so I jumped on Netflix Instant and watched the whole thing to judge it for myself.  Interestingly enough, I came up with the same grade as Dear Author reviewer Jayne, but I completely disagree with her review.  Janye, you've got it all backwards!  Let me set the record straight...

I think I should start off my review by stating that I don't like Henry Fonda.  Not one darn bit.  I think he pulled his weight a bit in 12 Angry Men, but that had more to do with excellent direction by Sidney Lummet and strong actors like Lee J. Cobb to play off of.  In The Lady Eve it's not his character Hopsy that's wooden, it's him!  I also had some qualms with William Demarest's portrayal of Mugsy (to say the least it was one dimensional and over the top) but it was more a reflection of 1930's comedic acting styles than actual bad acting (i.e. Henry Fonda!).

Janye and my biggest disagreement is over the first half of the movie.  The first half of the movie takes place on a steamboat headed back to New York from South America, where happy-go-lucky Jean begins a flirtation with Charles "Hopsy" Pike, millionaire and heir to an ale brewing company. Jean is the daughter of a card shark, and the flirtation was meant to help distract Hopsy, but soon she's falling for him too and calling off the whole scam.  Janye thought this half was fantastic and laugh out loud hilarious.  I thought it was mediocre and generic.  I agree with her that the first half of the movie is a lot more light hearted, but that's what makes it so bland.  There's no real tension that's developed yet.  

That being said, the tone changes and becomes darker in the second half, once the tension has developed.  At the end of the ship ride, Hopsy discovers what he believes to be Jean's deception and callously rejects her.  She vows revenge and later stays with a family friend who lives by the Pikes, introducing herself as the Lady Eve only to capture Hopsy's heart once again, this time to break it.  I felt Stanwyck really got a chance to shine in this half of the movie.  She slide between the smiling society girl and the hurt and angry lover with ease (I couldn't help but think of her future character in Double Indemnity!).  Ultimately she sides with good though and because of her love for Hopsy sees the error of what she's done.

The Lady Eve is a classic 1940's slapstick romantic comedy, and it's in the second half that it really acts like one.  For most the movie the comedic burden has been on Stanwyck (and somewhat Demarest) but here Fonda finally helps out with some physical gags.  I think to modern viewers these might seem silly and over the top, but I find them funny, especially when I look at them in comparison of other movies of the time when that's what comedy was.

There is one scene which really gets under my nerves though- the way in which Eve breaks Hopsy's heart is by confessing to a series of past flings and a previous marriage, which apparently is horrible enough to make him jump out of a train and refuse to ever speak to her again.  Really?!  Oh 1941... so appallingly anti-feminist.  However, if you can block what they're actually saying out and just watch Stanwyck's delivery it's still funny.

Overall, I don't think The Lady Eve is the best romantic comedy, ever or of the 1940's.  I don't think it holds up to the rapier wit of some of Cary Grant's early films (such as The Phildelphia Story) or The Thin Man series.  It was, however, a wonderful performance by Barbara Stanwyck and a great way to spend an hour and a half. B


  1. LOL! I love your reviews. I have to add this to my queue on Netflix! I try and watch movies, believe me, but with the hubs and kids hogging all the TVs it's a challenge. I will definitely watch this one, though.

  2. Thanks :) It's definitely worth seeing once, espcially if you're into classic films

  3. Wouldn't it be fun if we could deliver lines like that nowadays?

    "You see Hopsy, you don't know very much about girls. The best ones aren't as good as you think they are and the bad ones aren't as bad. Not nearly as bad."

    Nice review. :)