The Lady Eve Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Preston Sturges Presents a Two-Sided Love Triangle

Based on Monckton Hoffe’s “Two Bad Hats,” The Lady Eve is Preston Sturges’s third outing as writer/director, and with it, he has created an unusual screwball comedy wherein Charlie Pike (Henry Fonda) falls in love with two women unaware they are “the same dame” (Barbara Stanwyck).

Buy The Lady Eve (The Criterion Collection) Blu-ray

During the opening credits an animated snake appears. It’s an animal Charlie looked for in the Amazon jungle, and it also references a story featuring the most famous Eve of all. Charlie, the heir to a rich ale baron, and his gruff caretaker Muggsy (William Demarest) are picked up by a cruise ship after spending a year in South America.

On board are a team of con artists, most notably Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck). Their initial plans are to redistribute some of Charlie’s wealth, but to the chagrin of Jean’s father (Charles Coburn), she falls for Charlie as he falls for her. Charlie proposes, but after Muggsy reveals Jean’s identity, the marriage is off, and both are hurt.

Some time passes. Jean runs into a fellow grifter who is posing as Englishman Sir Alfred (Eric Blore) in Bridgefield, CT, making money off the locals playing bridge. That’s where Charlie lives and Jean wants to get back at him. She poses as Alfred’s niece, Lady Eve Sidwich and convinces Charlie that they haven’t met before. Muggsy is sure she’s “the same dame” but Sir Alfred explains why they look so similar. That doesn’t stop Charlie from courting “Eve.”

Sturges’s screenplay is compelling. As a romantic comedy, it succeeds in both areas, filled with touching scenes as Charlie and Jean fall for each other twice and lots of funny business, from lots of food and beverages being spilled on Charlie throughout the picture. There’s also a great bit with a horse getting in way as Charlie proposes to “Eve”. In addition, the film has a mystery component because it’s not clear what Jean intends for her revenge, keeping the viewer guessing until the end of the movie. Also The Lady Eve might be as sexy as a film could be in 1941 with its dialogue and Charlie helping Jean put on a shoe.

Stanwyck is a powerhouse. Jean has the icy exterior of a con artist. There’s a great couple of scenes as she and her father one-up each other as they play cards with Charlie. And yet, Charlie’s good-naturedness exposes the tenderness inside her. Fonda is very funny as meek, clumsy Charlie, and it’s surprising he didn’t play more comedic roles.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The liner notes state, “After the world’s film archives were combed, and multiple third- and fourth-generation copies held by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Library of Congress were reviewed, a 35 mm film-grain master positive from Universal Studios was determined to be the best element to scan for this film. This new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner at EFILM Hollywood from that fine-grain. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management.”

Blacks are strong and whites look bright and occasionally border on blooming. The focus is soft throughout. There are some slight bits of debris and scratches, and one instance of hair on the right side of frame.

Regarding the LPCM Mono,“The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm fine-grain master positive using Avid’s Pro Tools and iZotope RX.” Dialogue is clear but Jean’s screams when seeing the snake are so loud they distort. The dialogue, music, and effects are balanced well in the mix.

The Special Features are

  • CommentaryRecorded in 2001 for Criterion, film scholar Marian Keane talks about one of her favorite films.
  • Introduction (1080i, 8 min) Director Peter Bogdanovich sings the film and the director’s praises.
  • Tom Sturges and Friends (1080i, 42 min) – Recorded for Criterion in 2020, Preston’s son, Tom, leads a Zoom video conference, with the foibles of learning that application present. He is joined by writers Susan King, Kenneth Turan, and Leonard Maltin, and filmmakers Ron Shelton, James L. Brooks, and Peter Bogdanovich singing the praises of the film and of the those involved making it.
  • The Lady Deceives (HD, 22 min) – A new video essay by critic/filmmaker David Cairns examines the film.
  • Costume Designs by Edith Head (HD, 6 min)–Head’s sketches, along with stills and clipes from The Lady Eve, are accompanied by her own words, excerpted from her 1983 book, Edith Head’s Hollywood, co-written by Paddy Calistro.
  • Lux Radio Theatre (audio only, 44 min) – Originally broadcast on March 9, 1942, Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Coburn reprise their roles and are joined by Ray Milland in the part of Charlie.
  • “Up the Amazon” (audio only, 5 min)– Songwriters Rick Chertoff and David J. Forman composed this song, intended to be the opening number of a theatrical musical based on The Lady Eve. Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks perform the song.
  • Trailer (HD, 2 min)
  • The booklet contains an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a profile of Preston Sturges from LIFE magazine, circa 1946.

The Lady Eve is a classic romantic comedy that sets a high bar thanks to the talent of Sturges and the chemistry of the lead actors. Criterion has delivered a quality high-def presentation considering the condition of the elements and fans will enjoy digging through the special features.

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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