The Lady Eve



USA 1941, dir. Preston Sturges, 97m

Sturges’ second movie hasn’t aged anywhere near as well as his later classics, Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero, only intermittently displaying flashes of his hallmark breakneck irreverence. Eve is simultaneously much too conventional and, more damagingly, laughably implausible. The screenplay’s structure (which recalls the Marx brothers’ superior Monkey Business) is so lopsided the film feels much longer than 97 minutes – most damagingly, the laughs are relatively few and far between. Convoluted plot starts promisingly in the Amazon jungle, where posh Henry Fonda is preparing to return to the U.S. after a year chronicling rare snakes. On an ocean liner bound for home, he’s targetted by father-and-daughter con artists Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck. The absurdly dimwitted Fonda (who looks uncomfortable throughout) is only saved from being fleeced by the intervention of his worldly-wise minder, Mugsy (craggy Sturges stalwart William Demarest). This causes the break-up of the budding romance between Stanwyck and Fonda. The second part of the film casts believability to the wind, as, back home in Connecticut a series of contrivances leads Stanwyck to pose as an English heiress – the Lady Eve of the title – in order to have her revenge on Fonda. Or something. The film has elements of screwball and straight comedy, romance and drama, but instead of blending the ingredients curdle. In his later films Sturges excels with huge crowds of babbling oddballs – he doesn’t cope anywhere near as well with Eve‘s frequent two-handers between Stanwyck and Fonda. The one exception is when the pair go horseriding and stop to admire a sunset. As they exchange soppy romantic patter, one of the horses pokes his head through between theirs, over and over – it’s the most original and funniest bit in the movie. Trouble is, in all the other scenes, Sturges forgot about the horse.