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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:

  • Adam and/or Eve: Played for Laughs on the idea of Eve as a seductress, even including the image of an apple with a bite taken out of it on the movie poster and in the Animated Credits Opening.
  • Animated Credits Opening: With a snake coiling itself around some apples.
  • Bare Your Midriff: The rather daring cocktail dress that Jean wears out to dinner on the boat.
  • Card Sharp: The Harrington's main line of work, fleecing passengers on ships.
  • The Con: Both the initial card game con and Jean's more elaborate revenge con.
  • Crash-Into Hello: Jean trips Charles — deliberately.
  • Crush Blush: Jean's father notices that Jean has been walking around with one and believes that it's down to her growing relationship with Charles.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Invoked. Eve gets entangled in more and more of her past love affairs, much to Charles dismay.
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  • Divorce in Reno: Suggested to Charles by divorce lawyers to get out of his marriage to "Eve".
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Jean is rather frightened of Charles' ... snake.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Jean as Lady Eve.
  • Fake Brit: In-universe, as Jean 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.
  • 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: Features two of classic Hollywood's greatest examples of this trope — William Demarest (Muggsy) and Eugene Pallette (Horace Pike).
  • In Love with the Mark: Happens to Jean, and then again when Jean as "Eve" worms her way back into Charles's arms.
  • In-Series Nickname: "Hopsie" for Charles.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's ale, not beer.
  • The Klutz: Charles. He has five pratfalls over the course of the movie (two at the same party).
  • Ladykiller in Love: Gender Inverted. Jean used her sex appeal to lure rich men into the gambling trap. But then she falls In Love with the Mark.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Twice over, first as Jean and then as Eve.
  • Names to Trust Immediately: Pearlie's alias, Sir Alfred Mc Glennan-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.
  • One Born Every Minute: Jean describes her love for Charles like "the ax needs the turkey."
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Even Jean calls her father "Harry."
  • Opera Gloves: "Eve" is very stylish.
  • 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.
  • Professional Gambler: The Harringtons are this.
  • Properly Paranoid: Muggsy, on Charles' behalf.
  • Really Gets Around: "Eve" reveals this to Charles on the honeymoon night. He is not thrilled.
  • The Roper: Jean's part in the gambling con is to lure rich men into playing high stakes card games with her Card Sharp father.
  • Second-Act Breakup: During the Internal Reveal, Charles learns of Jean's true nature and breaks up with her.
  • Separated by a Common Language: "Eve" really plays this to the hilt in order to sound more British.
  • 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.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Charles, as described by Eve.
  • Title Drop: How Jean-as-Eve is announced at the Pike residence.
  • 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.


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