The Lady Eve

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The critics swoon over The Lady Eve, a 1941 comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges; me, not so much.

Henry Fonda is Charles Pike, heir to the Pike's Pale Ale fortune. He's more of the naturalist type, though, with a passionate interest in snakes. As the movie opens, he's boarding an ocean liner, returning home from an expedition. But it's one of those ocean liners that tolerates a gang of card sharks, out to fleece the rich passengers. Barbara Stanwyck plays Jean, the female member of the gang. She throws herself at Pike; you can imagine her doing the same thing to dozens of previous marks. But this time, for some reason, she falls for the sap, and he falls for her. Things are working just fine until he becomes aware of her sordid past.

To my ear, the famously "witty" Sturges dialog is stilted and forced; the actors don't speak it so much as recite it. Fonda is wooden, although (to be fair) his role in the movie is pretty much limited to playing a straight man to Stanwyck's flamboyant personality. As often happens with Sturges movies, the supporting characters get some of the best lines.

But I'm just carping against the critical consensus; there are some funny things here. But if I'm looking for old-comedy laughs, Hawks, Capra, and the Marx Brothers are more reliable.

Last Modified 2012-10-08 12:55 PM EST