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The Lady Eve

By Martin L. Johnson | Posted 9/3/2008

The screwball comedy is an unfortunate name for a peculiar blend of contrived scenarios, unlikely props, and plots that philosopher Stanley Cavell once labeled "comedies of remarriage." Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve will forever be a bridesmaid to classier, and more classic, fare such as The Philadelphia Story and The Awful Truth, but it transforms the Katharine Hepburn brand of mannered comedy into a not so submerged satire on the pretensions of the rich set in a time when everything's falling apart. Barbara Stanwyck plays the ingénue in a con-artist family that is after the fortune of Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), an heir to a beer fortune who has abandoned the family business to study snakes. The plot is somewhat pro forma: Stanwyck falls for Fonda, she thwarts her father's results to con the naïve Pike out of his money, and then disguises herself as the wealthy Lady Eve in order to win his heart. It all ends up, as Cavell has also noted, in Connecticut, where Stanwyck has to hook Fonda, who's still pining for the huckster he met on the ship, all over again. The Lady Eve reminds us that love trumps all in the end, even when we're dealt from a stacked deck.

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