Tuesday 8 January 2013

The Lady Eve (1941)

The Lady Eve
So, here we have another romantic comedy and again a con theme. An ensemble of crooks spearheaded by Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) has found their easy prey in the rich and naïve Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) and now they got to milk the cow. Unfortunately Jean falls in love with the mug and that complicates matters.

This one has a lot of good stuff. Premier of that is an excellent cast. Stanwyck and Fonda are glorious. They are in general good but here they are excelling in roles so different from what I have seen them do before. Stanwyck as the elegant and charming seductress is far away from the demure missionary wife in “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” or the earthbound working class mother in “Stella Dallas”. In the Lady Eve she is classy, simply classy. She oozes style and sex and wit. And she does this so naturally that the other roles of hers seem the acted ones.

Henry Fonda too seems at first out of place. He is not the serious, fiery gentleman of “Jezebel” or the tight and intense Oklahoma farmer of “The Grapes of Wrath”, but a young and naïve but also deeply honest and decent man. A typical Jimmy Stewart role, really. In fact I wonder why Stewart is not doing this one, but I suppose he was under contract with another studio. No loss though, Fonda is doing a perfect job.

The supporting cast work fine as well. Charles Coburn as Jean Harrington swindler father is particularly excellent, but also Eric Blore as a con man giving it as British nobility is good.

The script is witty and full of puns and by all rights this should be a good romcom with a few delicious twists.

So why do I not love this film?

This internal logic of this film stinks.

I just do not get the plot. The dude gets framed once on the boat by the girl. Lesson learned. At the family estate he fall for the same tricks even though he gets very clear indications that this is exactly the same woman, now giving it as a British lady of old money and title. Once married she scare him away with stories of past relationships at which point he takes a cruise ship and finds the original Jean and they throw themselves in each other’s arms.  

Am I missing something here? What makes him suddenly think that the answer to marrying one con woman is to take another con woman? What is her ploy? I understand that she needs to be rid of him after they get married, but I also understand that the idea is that she wants him to go and find the real Jean. How exactly is that supposed to work? There is a big gaping hole here and it feels as if I fell asleep somewhere near the end and missed some crucial part, but I swear I was wide awake, not even drifting.

This is the kind of things that really ruins it for me. The movie has to convince me that its story is plausible and adheres to its own logic. Deux ex machinas are definitely a no-no and pasted on happy endings definitely an eyesore, but bad logic… That just leaves me with that big empty feeling.

Of course it may be that I am just really stupid and missed the entirely obvious. That has happened before and if I should be really fair I ought to go back and see it again. It would not be so bad to do that really. Barbara Stanwyck makes it all worthwhile and Henry Fonda is good for a few hearty laughs.

And we do get to meet an old friend again. You remember “Isn’t it Romantic” from “Love me Tonight”?


  1. I'm sorry, did you use the word "logic" in describing a Preston Sturges film? Ha ha ha ha!! Surely you jest!

    I can understand the total implausibility of the plot structure getting in someone's way for this movie, but it doesn't for me. I love this one. It's so much fun. Henry Fonda falling down... a lot. All the stock supporting characters at their best.


    "Absolutely the same dame!"

    1. I know, I may be asking for too much. Half the fun in a con movie is to see how it all works out. I could accept the resolution in "Trouble in Paradise" because they resolved it using the charm which is the keyword of the film. Here I do not even understand how it got resolved. It just happened.

      I think if I had stopped the film 5 minutes before it ended I would have liked it a lot better because all the other ingredients are just right. And Barbara Stanwyck is hot as hell.

  2. I also can't help you make this movie make more sense.

    In regards to Stanwyck, wait until you see her character in Double Indemnity.

    1. Come on, Chip, I am relying on you! Help me please :-)

      Really I fear it is one of those you-just-got-to-accept it moments.

  3. It sort of is a go-with-it moment on this one. This isn't a film to enjoy for the plot, but to enjoy for Henry Fonda and (most especially) Barbara Stanwyck. It's not really supposed to be believable. More or less, you're supposed to have fun with the craziness of Preston Sturges.

    For me, though, it's all about Barbara Stanwyck, who is my unabashed and total crush from the classic era of Hollywood. I'll watch anything with the divine Barbara in it, and when she gets to act, it's even better. Her performance is as good as it gets--you can always tell what's going on in her head in this one, and it's all in how she carries herself and in how she says what she says.

    Watch more Barbara Stanwyck!

    1. I am totally with you on this. This is the best I have seen from Barbara Stanwyck and although "The Grapes of Wrath" for me is the signature role for Henry Fonda he is excellent here as well. And the script is wonderful. I just cannot help being baffled over the resolution. I am keeping an you out for Stanwyck. You mentioned it before and now I understand why.

  4. I think the lack of sense is part of its screwball charm. Henry Fonda's character is so blind to the con that he keeps falling for it repeatedly. It's been a while since I've seen The Lady Eve, but I remember finding it charming. I also really enjoyed watching Henry Fonda fall down, which isn't the type of comedy I usually find silly. I think the big part is that it's Fonda, who often plays such stoic characters.

    1. You may have a point there. It is sort of out of character for him, but he does it so well.

      The thing is, Jean is not conning him in the end. He just seems to prefer a woman who would hit at him to get his money than a frivolous aristocrat with a ton of affairs. All of which are in the past. I just do not get that.

    2. I’ve always read the ending as them reuniting after she tells him they are already married and to each other. This is ok with Fonda because he now realizes that he was an idiot not to listen to Stanwyck’s explanation in the first place. The idea is that she was in the process of going straight because of love. That might not make sense either but it was my reaction.

    3. Yeah, that may be. I really should watch this again, it may make more sense to me now. Then again, internal logic is a big thing with me.