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  Lady Eve, The Woman Chases Man
Year: 1941
Director: Preston Sturges
Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest, Eric Blore, Melville Cooper, Martha O'Driscoll, Janet Beecher, Robert Greig, Dora Clement, Luis Alberni
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) is a scientist who just happens to be an expert on reptiles and has spent the last year in the Amazon jungle pursuing his interests in scaly creatures. Now his field research has been brought to an end and he bids farewell to his colleagues, and accompanied by his manservant "Muggsy" Murgatroyd (William Demarest) he boards an ocean liner back to the United States. Charles is also a millionaire, the son of a wealthy owner of ale breweries, and there are many nubile ladies who would like to get their hands on him, including a certain Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) who has a few tricks up her sleeve...

Often hailed as one of the defintive screwball comedies, The Lady Eve was scripted by its director, Preston Sturges, and its success really set him on a path to be one of the most popular filmmakers of the first half of the nineteen-forties, a popularity that still makes him a cult figure today. Yet watching it now, there may be plenty of slapstick, but it doesn't feel like it builds up a proper head of steam to really be classed a screwball comedy, and is best considered as a cynical romantic one, Fonda frequently falling over notwithstanding.

It's the old, old Biblical story of Eve tempting Adam translated with a sardonic twist into the forties, as Jean is not all she seems. She travels with her father, the Colonel (Charles Coburn), who probably isn't a real Colonel because they are both confidence tricksters who fleece passengers on cruise ships with rigged card games. This time, however, Jean has her sights set a little higher when Charles hoves into view - she appropriately drops an apple on his head to get his attention when he is boarding - and makes up her mind to be the woman he falls for after all those months away from female companionship.

Stanwyck is as good here as she ever was, surprisingly sensual and making the most of the saucy sexual overtones in the script. After observing him across the dining room and seeing how much attention he is attracting from the females, she forces him to talk to her (he has had his head buried in a book) by tripping him up and insisting he walk her down to her cabin to get a repalcement shoe. She bewitches the innocent, gauche Charles, calling him "Hopsie", and Fonda makes it clear he has been overwhelmed in the most hesitant way. He is a little too hesitant, in fact, frequently coming across as a one note character and totally outshone by his co-star - Fonda was not a natural comedian.

As unlikely as it sounds, the hard boiled dame grows to love the sucker back and it's not long before wedding bells are being mentioned. There's just one thing: Jean hasn't confessed to initially trying to dupe Charles and when Muggsy is alerted to the scam, he tells his boss and the marriage is off - and Jean's heart is broken. What follows is a tale of revenge that is carried off very well, with Sturges' accustomed cast of excellent supporting actors well to the fore - Eugene Pallette plays Charles' father, Eric Blore poses as Jean's uncle - but Jean is such a forceful, strong-headed woman that the happy ending is difficult to believe and Stanwyck is far more acceptable as the clever, swindling temptress; plus the film never gets to be quite funny enough, being too much in the thrall of the involved plotting.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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