“I’m cockeyed on your perfume. I’ve been up the Amazon for a year and they don’t use perfume.”
Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve, starring the Henry Fonda at 35 and Barbara Stanwyck, beautiful & 33, is a fun & flirty romantic comedy. Fonda plays Charles “Hopsi” Pike, the wealthy scientist son of an ale baron en route to New York City on cruise ship after a year in the Amazon studying snakes. Stanwyck is Jean Harrington, the card hustler partner of her father the Colonel (Charles Coburn), who plans to fleece the naïve ophiologist during a few nights of poker on the cruise. Instead, of course, she’s snake bitten & soon all-in for love. Fine performances are turned in by all three, as well as William Demarest (Uncle Charley in My Three Sons) who plays Pike’s suspicious bodyguard/valet, Muggsy. As expected with romantic comedies, there are a number of twists & turns and mistakes in identity (although in this piece they’re planned when Jean Harrington disguises herself as the British aristocrat, Lady Eve). Sturges represents the era quite well in the light & enjoyable The Lady Eve, a very good if not great motion picture.
In 1942, at the 14th Academy Awards, The Lady Eve was nominated for the now defunct Best Story Oscar. The award was to honor the person who wrote the original piece upon which a films adapted screenplay was based. The Nominee was Monckton Hoffe, and the story was based on his 1922 play, The Faithful Heart. In 1994, the U.S. National Film Registration Board entered The Lady Eve into the National Film Registry. And all five of its principals are Academy Award Winners or Nominees: Sturges, who is most celebrated as a writer, won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar the year before for The Great McGinty; Fonda received an Honorary Oscar in 1981 at the 53rd Academy Awards, and the following year was Best Actor for his unforgettable portrayal of Norman in On Golden Pond; and that same year, his Lady Eve received her Honorary Oscar; Coburn won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Benjamin Dingle in The More the Merrier in 1944 at the 16th Academy Awards; and Demarest was nominated for Supporting Actor in ’46 as Steve Martin in The Jolson Story.
Eight-time Oscar Winner, the incomparable Edith Head, was the Costume Designer for The Lady Eve, and the costuming, while not given any awards, is fantastic. It was her first of many collaborations with Stanwyck. They were not only colleagues, but good friends. Edith even designed some outfits for Barbara’s personal wardrobe. Her beautiful design of the wedding dress for the film was such a sensation that it was copied & became a popular choice for brides of the time. It was known as The Lady Eve Dress.
The Lady Eve shows that True Love conquers all: she rights wrongs; turns scoundrels to saints; and crosses societal barriers. She will not be denied irrespective of the passage of time – even if she needs to execute devious plans to have her way. And if you’ve been smitten by her once, you know her. True Love is the same to you & I as it was to Jean & Hopsi: Whether you’re rich or poor, a scientist or a hustler, a snake or a thoroughbred, a valet or an aristocrat: “She’s the same dame!”.