Barbara Stanwyck > You (and everybody else): The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

theladyeve

The Lady Eve is a screwball comedy so consummately clever, quick and risqué that it can hardly be appreciated all at once. Barbara Stanwyck is quite amazing as bad/good girl Jean and her alter ego good/bad girl Lady Eve.

Henry Fonda as the straight man shows total sincerity, whether he’s struggling to maintain his composure through Jean’s seductions (during which she feigns ignorance of the effect of her calculated performance), intellectualising the problem of two women who look like the same person (and therefore, he thinks, can’t be at all), or blindly colliding with yet another inanimate object (each one more embarrassing than the last).

In a particularly memorable scene, Charles proclaims his love to Eve using much the same speech as he used on Jean, only to be continually interrupted by a horse pushily trying to get his attention. The words are hollow and the proof of his feelings for Jean/Eve is in how much he can accept her for who she is (or as she’s presenting herself to be, anyway).

The ending, surprisingly, goes by in a flash-but this may be so 1941 audiences didn’t dwell on the fact that Jean gets what she wants, and in her own way too.

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