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Film / The Lady Eve

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"You know you shouldn't draw to an inside straight."
Colonel Harrington to his broken-hearted daughter

The Lady Eve is a 1941 film written and directed by Preston Sturges, often considered to be one of the most iconic Screwball Comedy movies from the genre's golden age. It stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, with appearances by Charles Coburn, William Demarest, and Eugene Pallette.

On a cruise full of wealthy tourists, the conning Mr. Harrington (Coburn) and his daughter Jean (Stanwyck) look around for potential guests to trick with their poker games. When the ship stops at a port, a wealthy Ophidiologistnote  named Charles Pike (Fonda) boards after spending a year researching in the Amazon. Jean and her father make him their next target and Jean flirts her way into winning him over, which works almost instantly until Charles finds out through his assistant Jean's true intentions. Furious and heartbroken, Jean refuses to let Charlie go and, with the power of identity theft and cultural ignorance, disguises herself as Lady Eve Sidwich, the niece of the supposed Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith (Eric Blore).


Hilarity Ensues.

This film provides examples of:

  • Card Sharp: The Harrington's main line of work is fleecing passengers on ships.
  • Fake Brit: In-universe, as Jean, an American, makes herself out to be the Lady Eve Sidwich.
  • Fake Twin Gambit: Jean is supposedly Lady Eve's illegitimate half-sister.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Charles is quick on his decision. He proposes to Jean after a couple of dates on the boat. Later he proposes to Eve after seeing her for a couple of weeks.
  • Funny Background Event: While Charles is earnestly pouring his heart out to "Eve" during a country ride, his horse keeps nudging him in the head.
  • Genius Ditz: Charles, a snake expert, is surprisingly clueless enough to fall for Jean's terrible disguise.
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  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Jean's gambit as "Lady Eve." Muggsy immediately pegs her as the same person, but Charles overthinks it and decides that Jean would at least dye her hair, and certainly wouldn't agree when he said she looked familiar.
  • Guttural Growler: Muggsy and Horace Pike both have deep, gravelly voices (which were the trademarks of their respective actors, William Demarest and Eugene Pallette).
  • Names to Trust Immediately: Pearlie's alias, Sir Alfred McGlennan-Keith, R.F.D., as he explains to the Colonel:
    Colonel: But how do you meet them?
    Pearlie: The chumps? Oh, my dear fellow, with a name like Sir Alfred McGlennan-Keith, one doesn't have to *meet* them — one fights them off with sticks.
  • Nouveau Riche: The Pike family. Horace Pike retains his blue-collar tastes even after making a fortune in brewing.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Harry as "Colonel Harrington" and Jean gasp in awe when Charles demonstrates a card trick and "teaches" them how to palm things.
  • Once an Episode: This was Sturges' third film as director, and like The Great Mcginty and Christmas in July, it ends with William Demarest delivering the punchline.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Even Jean calls her father "Harry."
  • Parents as People: Harry is an unrepentant con man who refuses to leave Charles alone even when Jean begs him to, but he cares about her a great deal and comforts her after Charles dumps her.
  • Silent Treatment: After finding out that Jean is a card sharp, Charles spends much of the ensuing conversation saying nothing at all as she tries to explain herself.
  • Something Else Also Rises: The elevator-floor indicator on the boat is used for Henry Fonda.
  • Wildlife Commentary Spoof: Jean does a running commentary on smitten women trying to get Charles' attention at the ship's nightclub suite as she watches them through her mirror.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Jean freaks out when Charles shows her his snake Emma.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Jean tells Charles that she was going to tell him the truth: She was only waiting till they were ashore to protect her father and their partner in crime.