Film Review: The Lady Eve

Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve is as amiable as ever as it gets a big screen re-release. The film is a giant of the screwball comedy genre. 

Returning from a research trip in the Amazon, wealthy heir Charles meets Jean on a ship. Unbeknownst to him, Jean is part of a trio of scam artists. However, she begins to fall for her mark…

Released in 1941, The Lady Eve still works so well after all these years because all the elements just fizz. Writer-director Sturgess combines a brilliant script, with great performances and spot-on direction. The set up is a simple one; a card sharp develops feelings for her target, before he learns of her past. Yet the film has boundless appeal.

Jean Harrington is a brilliant protagonist. Despite her dubious intentions, she is someone to root for. She is both a trickster and a romantic; it is hard not to admire her. Elsewhere, there some great characters, such as Sir Alfred. As the romantic interest, Charles is the perfect archetype for Jean to play off. Based on a play by Moncton Hoffe, The Lady Eve has some terrific dialogue. There are also some wonderful set pieces, such as an early scene where Jean lures Charles in. Pacing in the film is good. The action moves along well, never feeling like it is rushing or dragging. 

Costumes by Edith Head are wonderful. Barbara Stanwyck delivers a fantastic performance as Jean, a character which allows her to show her range, and particularly her comedic skills. Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, and Eric Blore are also great. The Lady Eve is a must-see for screwball comedy fans. First-time viewers may find themselves returning to Sturges’ film over and over again.

The Lady Eve is being screened at the BFI Southbank as part of the Barbara Stanwyck season, as well as at selected venues throughout the UK from 14th February 2019.