Directed by Preston Sturges
It’s really a shame that despite a very productive four to five-year span where he made nearly eight films, Preston Sturges never really had a career as a filmmaker. (Though to be fair, that probably had more to do with inner Hollywood politicking and homophobia – Sturges was reportedly a frequent cross-dresser – than anything else.) The man clearly had a talent for both writing and directing. In fact, I’ve found his films to be the closest of anything to the modern day sensibility of what “comedy” is, than anything else. Hell, in 1944 he created a comedy about a single woman who wakes up and finds herself pregnant! (“The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”) His films always pushed the boundaries of what was socially acceptable at the time, despite managing to always stay firmly rooted in classical narrative conventions. “The Lady Eve” was one of the first films he was ever able to both write and direct and it also ended up being one of his best, despite not necessarily being his funniest.
“The Lady Eve” isn’t outwardly as funny as either “Unfaithfully Yours” or “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” but it’s probably a better film than either one of those two. With this film Sturges manages to juggle both the romantic nature of its plot along with its comedy, making sure that both compliment one another instead of one being more overpowering than the other. He manages to keep this juggling act up perfectly for 93-minutes.
The film follows the exploits of Barbara Stanwyck as she tries to first con Henry Fonda out of his fortune and then falls madly in love with him. Of course, at some point Fonda grows wise to her original intentions and once having done so, all bets are off. “The Lady Eve” doesn’t quite have the verbal comedic flare of Sturges other works, but his physical humor is spot on and Henry Fonda performs it fantastically. You’d be hard pressed to find an actor put through more tumbles in the course of one film than Fonda here (though I doubt anyone has ever, or will ever, have to go through the physical hell that Sam Raimi forced Bruce Campbell to endure throughout “The Evil Dead” trilogy – and with that aside I believe that I am the first person in the world to ever relate “The Lady Eve” to “The Evil Dead”, but hey, even their titles are somewhat similar!). What Fonda brings to the film physically, Stanwyck compliments with her charisma and star quality. When she’s on-screen it’s hard to take your eyes off of her. Her seduction of young Fonda (two times!) is a joy to watch and never feels forced or false. By the end of the film you realize quite clearly that you’ve just seen one of the more impressive works of screwball romantic comedy ever crafted.
The works of Preston Sturges fondly reminds me of more modern-day films and filmmakers like Woody Allen and his comedies. (Though today, even Allen’s work might not be considered “modern.”) But more importantly, Sturges work remains with a certain sense of timelessness that is practically unheard of in comedic films, and this quality is one of the most important and necessary things to strive for. “The Lady Eve” is a perfect example of comedy done right.