Monday, November 30, 2009


The Film: The Lady Eve (103)

The Director: Preston Sturges (Sullivan's Travels (118), Unfaithfully Yours (292))

What Is It?: A classic bit of screwball comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck and the slightly creepy Henry Fonda. A gold-digging con-lady sets her site on the snake-obsessed heir of a massive "ale" company. Fast-talking, slap-sticking, generally nonsensical hilarity ensues aboard boats and in mansions.

The Experience?: Don't judge me but I think I might've watched a non-Criterion edition of this priceless little bit of slapstick puff. I know, I know, let the Criterion Gods lash me in to bloody flails. That said, I watched this entire film in nearly one sitting without falling asleep once. I believe the lack of subtitles and startling surreality may have been the cause. It might also be that I've seen this film two or three times prior to this.

Quick Notes

1. "Let us be crooked, but never common."

Kind of the running theme through out the entire film. It's a film about con artists who steal money, using disguise and sex and what-not, from numbskull rich folk, and the only way you can watch the film is to do so with a slice of smile cut across your face. Con artistry is funny folks! These aren't cons who'll shoot you dead, these are cons who'll swindle you, give the money back, fall in love with you, wheedle a little bit more out and then reform for good. These are 1930s con-artists, the kind you and I and everyone else in the whole wide world just want to hold and love and squeeze. These are well spoken con-artists who can fit in at a dinner table just as easily as they can fit in to a back alley speakeasy. The kind you can bring home to the parents.

2. Small feet = good women; "What does it matter ... if he's rich?"; the roles of men and woman portrayed terribly.

This is a slew of notes I scribbled over the course of the whole film, but they seemed so nicely themed so I tossed 'em together. Clever right? The Lady Eve (103) and possibly every film made in the 30s really bumbles the whole modern male-female dynamic. If one was to live their gendered lives in regards to The Lady Eve (103) men would be looking for pygmy-footed princesses and women would only find attraction in clueless, sometimes creepy members of the upper crust. Also, putting on nice dresses and affecting a bad English accent invariably makes you completely unrecognizable to the man who recently wanted to marry you (take note of that one ladies). Honestly, one of the more interesting facets of this whole quest has been the way that the male/female dynamic is portrayed in different films from different countries in different time periods. Especially interesting is that less than a hundred years ago women were stripped of their strengths (even the massively amazing Barbara Stanwyck can't hold her own in the throws of love with a rich man) and turned in to doe-eyed knockouts hungry only for riches. It's funny sure, but also telling of what the future was foretold to be for women in the 1930s.

3. Barbara fucking Stanwyck

My rant on gender in 1930s films aside, Barbara Stanwyck is amazing. Originally attractive (though semi-rodent looking), drop-dead hilarious, and imbued with a brassy strength reserved only for the hard-headed heroines of screwball comedy - she's outstanding in this, and I presume, every other film she's in. Especially when paired with Henry Fonda's Charles Pike, a bumbling, sycophantic man-child. In the real world, a woman like Stanwyck's Jean Harrington would use Pike as furniture, but as mentioned, this is a film about the 30s and in the 1930's everyone knew that women were just pretty faces, thus, and I'm not giving away much, the allure of a good, rich man is Ms. Harrington's ultimate un-doing. Nonetheless, color me crushin' on the late, great B. Stanwyck.

4. That said, Henry Fonda, yeesh.

Fonda's as famous as anyone in old Tinseltown and if you've seen Grapes of Wrath or any of his Westerns, you'll know why. His performance in The Lady Eve (103) though? Fairly creepy. He's a dawdling (two times I've used dawdling in this post, thank you, thank you) rich kid who loves reptiles and can't seem to realize that with his mattress full of inheritance money he could be shtupping, well, probably anyone. Strangely though, Fonda plays Mr. Charles Pike as a slow-talking dullard, a kind of slack-jawed yokel that exists better in the wild than in the complex game-playing of high society. I mean, that's how he tries to play it. Instead he comes off ala Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows (95) - and by that I mean someone you don't want your children to be left alone with. It is near unbelievable that a stone-cold fox like Stanwyck would waste a second on Pike. Creepy bastard.

5. Criterion class collision.

The last three films in the old Criterion Collection have been real introspective peeks in to the way classes work (on some level). Cries & Whispers (101) was a heart-wrenching peek in to the high-societies of Sweden, highlighted by the low-lidded stolen glances of a truly loving maid. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (102) was a silly-faced dissection of the rich and all their plodding, bone-headed ways. And The Lady Eve (103) hilariously, at times, casts a sharp-eyed look in to the romantic notions of the rich and beautiful. Can I tell you again why I love Criterion? Because you could probably pair any three films consecutively and find some sort of connection - for each their own - and that's what makes me geek out the most. This isn't just a collection of random films, this a piece of curated art in itself and I'm starving to see what theme we, or I, jump in to next.

Final Thoughts: I've seen this classic a few good times, and I've enjoyed each and every. Throw down your luxurious ideas of a plot that holds together though, this is the 1930s people, anything goes and it goes quite frequently. Barbara Stanwyck, a little piece of my heart is buried with you.

Tuesday: Finally, another What's In Store

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