Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn
Director: Preston Sturges
Running Time: 93 mins
The Lady Eve is an American film about a team of card scammers who target a wealthy but awkward heir to a major corporation, however the plan hits a roadblock when one of their number falls in love with the mark.
I love a good screwball comedy, and The Lady Eve is a film that starts with all the best parts of a great screwball, with two dynamite performances from Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, an intriguing and equally comical dynamic between the leads, and consistently good humour, all of which makes for a really entertaining watch. However, the film takes a real turn just past the halfway point, and it’s something I found a little difficult to go with, leaving the final act a rather ridiculous and underwhelming affair.
Let’s start off on the bright side, with the film’s thoroughly entertaining first act, centring on the growing romance between a card scammer and her wealthy mark, with the brilliant farce of a man being fleeced while he falls in love with the perpetrator proving a hugely enjoyable centre for the story to start off on, and opening the gates for all sorts of comedic mishaps.
In that, The Lady Eve gets off to a really funny start, and in similarly frantic fashion to the likes of Bringing Up Baby, the beginning of the main relationship is all a bit of a whirlwind, further emphasising just how weak Fonda’s character is in comparison to Stanwyck’s, and how close he is to being completely taken for as he falls for her like a simple puppy.
The two lead performances are of course the key to what makes the opening act so entertaining, as if there were ever a female lead to take the screwball genre to the extreme, then Barbara Stanwyck is certainly the best of all, with a strong and energetic performance that plays brilliantly alongside Fonda’s likable and enjoyably weak turn, setting up that classic screwball dynamic in perfect fashion as the comedy and romantic chaos begins to kick off.
For the best part of forty or fifty minutes, I had a whole lot of fun with The Lady Eve, as it proves a likably romantic and hilariously frantic watch right from the start, with those two central performances really standing out and making for a thoroughly entertaining watch.
However, at that point, there’s a dramatic shift in the entire dynamic of the film, breaking a little with typical screwball formula as things get a little more out of control, with Stanwyck and Fonda’s relationship completely transforming to an extent that’s just not all that convincing.
Now, the screwball genre isn’t a stranger to a bit of suspension of disbelief, and I didn’t mind seeing a bit of a change to the formula from this film, but the story unfortunately takes a path that’s just far too ridiculous for even a genre as silly and fun-loving as this, and with the characters responding and acting in a way that’s a little too far-fetched, all the delightful fun and intrigue of the opening act grounds to a halt, leaving for a less-than-impressive finale.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with The Lady Eve, at least at first. Over its first half, it’s a hugely entertaining screwball comedy that gets pretty much everything about the genre right, with good humour, romance and performances. However, with a misguided and slightly ridiculous twists midway through, the film stutters to a disappointing ending, and unfortunately fails to continue the brilliant form of its opening half, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5.