The Lady Eve

Released:  1941

Cast:  Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn

SUMMARY:  Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) is the sole heir to the Pike Ale fortune, but has little interest in alcohol or brewing.  Instead, he is interested in reptiles, particularly snakes, and has spent the past year in the Amazon studying them.  He finally returns home by ship.  This particular ship is also carrying Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), an experienced card sharp who works with her father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn) and his partner Gerald.  When the trio learn the identity of their new shipmate, they immediately set out to con him.  Jean succeeds in attracting his attention, and Charles, who has very little experience with women, falls hard and fast.  However, Jean finds that she is also falling for him, and doesn’t want to hurt him by conning him.  When her father tries to bilk him in a card game, she uses all of her tricks to ensure that Charles still wins; incredibly naïve and trusting, Charles suspects nothing.  However, his valet/bodyguard does suspect something, and ultimately discovers that the Harringtons and Gerald are known con artists.  Charles is heartbroken when he learns the truth, and breaks off his relationship with Jean just as the sea voyage ends.

Jean is irate at the way Charles left her, and the fact that she protected him from her father.  To get revenge she decides to disguise herself and reenter Charles’ life, this time conning him for a large amount.  She changes her appearance, adopts a British accent, and calls herself “the Lady Eve Sidwich”, an aristocrat visiting her uncle (another con man), who lives in the same neighborhood as the Pikes.  When Charles first sees “Eve” at a party, he is so stunned by her resemblance to Jean that he makes a fool of himself, tripping over everything and crashing into people.  His valet is convinced that Eve actually is Jean, but Charles insists that she just looks remarkably similar (again, the naivete).  Just as before, Charles is completely drawn under Eve’s spell, and proposes to her not long after meeting.  The two marry, but on their honeymoon trip Eve enacts her revenge by listing all of the men she’d been involved with before meeting Charles.  Though Charles tries to be understanding and forgiving, he is unable to do so, and gets off the train.  Jean/Eve’s revenge seems to be complete:  Charles wants a divorce, which would enable her to extract a huge sum of money from him.  Once again, though, Jean’s feelings get in the way.  Charles refuses to talk to her, so Jean communicates with his father and team of lawyers.  She informs them that instead of money, she wants to talk to Charles face to face, but he refuses repeatedly.  Finally, Jean learns from them that Charles is leaving on another ocean cruise, so she also arranges to travel on the ship.  As Jean, she “runs into” Charles again.  He is thrilled to see her, and has clearly forgiven her for being a con.  Charles tells Jean that he loves her, but is regrettably married; Jean answers that she is, too.

MY TAKE:  Boy, is Charles Pike dumb.  Apparently he’s led a very sheltered life, because he’s extremely trusting and incredibly naïve.  He loses a huge sum of money to Colonel Harrington, since he doesn’t know when to quit:  when Harrington later convinces him to bet on who can draw the high card, he loses like 36 times in a row — at a thousand dollars a pop.  In addition to being very stupid, this is also probably statistically impossible.  He really should have suspected something.  Then he makes an even bigger fool of himself:  he doesn’t realize that Eve and Jean are the same person.  She dyes her hair and adopts an accent, but given the amount of time he spent staring at Jean you would think he would know her face a little better.  It’s a good thing she fell for him or he probably would have lost the entire family fortune.  It is funny to watch Jean/Eve work Charles, because she knows just how to manipulate him.  Her British accent is pretty terrible, though.

RATING:  Amusing.

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