The movie is about Jean Harrington, a con artist out to do what she does best - con the wealthy Charles Pike. He falls for her, easily manipulated by her charms and beauty. But she sort of falls for him. And he sort of finds out that she is a con artist. So she disguises herself as an English Lady, Eve, to bother and torment Charles endlessly. It's so funny - there is something very satisfying to me about comedy where the audience knows something that the characters do not. Of course, it all ends vaguely romantically, because that is how it must be.
I love Barbara Stanwyck. Her acting is always show-stealing, as evidenced in Double Indemnity. Ebert summarizes her amazing role nicely, writing, "Watch her eyes as she regards Fonda, in all of their quiet scenes together, and you will see a woman who is amused by a man's boyish shyness and yet aroused by his physical presence. At first she loves the game of seduction, and you can sense her enjoyment of her own powers. Then she is somehow caught up in her own seduction. There has rarely been a woman in a movie who more convincingly desired a man" (The Great Movies, 247). I love that she so clearly wants him but is so clearly manipulative. I mean, I personally can relate - I can think of a whole bunch of examples where I flirted in truly deceiving and conniving sort of ways. It's fun, it's exciting, and like in this movie, it pretty much always makes me fall in love with the person I'm flirting with.
Ah, I don't know. I just love it when women act like this in movies - The Lady Eve, to me, was like a combination of film noir (controlling lusty women) and screwball comedy. And there was just something about the comedy that was so timeless. I love the scene towards the end when Jean is confessing all of the men she had been with or dated before, and after each statement, Charles yells and reacts, and then it cuts to the train whistle blowing. Over and over again. It was so perfect and funny, and the more it happened, the stronger the gag became.
I guess sometimes I feel tired of comedy now - it's all pop culture references, and often stupid. It doesn't age well unless you lived through it. Disposable comedy. Even gross comedy gets boring - there are only so many poop and vomit jokes that one can laugh at. I love and am always in awe of movies like this one, though - that can stay hilarious and charming no matter how much time has passed. I think anyone could watch this and find it funny and cute and engrossing. It's comedy because it is well written, not just because the actors look funny or are like, I don't know, just stereotypes or something. These are well-written characters, and the comedy comes from something that is real (like a boy being shy of an aggressive lady) instead of just stupid, like "Look it's Mike Tyson, guys! Laugh!".
I hope if you are as strangely tired of modern comedy as I am that you check this out. I like humor, I just get tired of the same thing over and over again. I like comedy that stems from something real - I always lose it in The Graduate when Mrs. Robinson first tries to seduce Ben, and there are all these jump cuts between her body and his awkward face. It's plausible, I guess, and it feels real. It has more substance and a higher quality of writing than say, some guy making fart jokes. Yunno, real creativity, I guess. So watch this - it's streaming on Netflix and it's only about an hour and half. Let me know if you check it out!
Have any of you seen The Lady Eve? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on The Lady Eve