(1941) dir. Preston Sturges
After watching and really enjoying Sullivan’s Travels (1941) by director Preston Sturges, I was eager to see another of his films. And what with my little roll of Barbara Stanwyck films, The Lady Eve seemed pretty ideal for viewing. And it is.
While nowhere as satisfying or interesting as Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve is a pretty fun comedy about the battle of the sexes, featuring Henry Fonda as a millionaire reptile researcher with little experience with the females of his species and Barbara Stanwyck as a wise grifter, travelling with a pair of card sharps, looking to fleece the ship that they all meet up on. Sturges mixes physical comedy with the verbal snappiness that Screwball comedies made so much fun. And he populates his cast with solid extras and minor roles with sharp, witty actors who keep the whole thing afloat. It’s a fun time. And the best of it is Stanwyck.
She delivers her lines of ascerbic barbs and her moments of gushing pathos with a force and timing that is sharp and fun. She’s an excellent star, a solid actress, and a great personality. Oddly enough, the down side to this film is Fonda, who plays a dull-witted dupe, who’s a stiff as well, and he plays his so stiff that he’s just not any fun. I was actually imagining Jimmy Stewart in the role with the ability to play this kind of a role and add charm to it. I guess I’ve never been a particular fan of Fonda, and this film certainly didn’t add to my interest.
It actually may be a bit to do with the script, because Sturges has “the lady Eve” as the sharp-witted, wise-to-the-action gal, and Fonda’s character is just a dupe as her mate. “The lady Eve” may be the seductress but Pike (Fonda) is a fish in a barrel, no match, no balance for the battle of the sexes. He’s unarmed. And she’s got it all. Maybe that is Sturges’ point here, but it doesn’t make for as interesting a repartee.
And all that is not to say that it isn’t good fun, nonetheless.