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Film Analysis: The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve Preston Sturges, 1941 Paramount Pictures

Barbara Stanwyck – Jean and Eve

Henry Fonda- Charlie “Hopsie” Pike

The Lady Eve is a film about a female con artist (Barbara Stanwyck) who tries to scam a wealthy ale/beer bachelor named Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) but is turmoiled when her emotions get the best of her and she falls in love. Engaged to be married Pike is warned about is bride-to-be  and confronts her. Jean confirms his skepticism, somewhat relieved to finally tell the truth.

The Lady Eve was produced in 1941, making it a post code film. In 1934 the Hays Office Production Code went into effect after the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was formed. The MPPDA “organized censorship” and policed films and the stars in them. Infractions included strong sexual content – film’s title, scenes, or dialogue- profanity, nudity etc. The Lady Eve violates the Hays code through several of its sexually suggestive scenes of “passionate gestures and lustful kissing” (studio system part 2, lecture notes) and Jean’s wardrobe outfits.

The action is unraveled in about the third scene where Pike is at the Dining Hall on a boat, the S.S. Southern Queen on route to the U.S. from South America. Jean, who is seated a couple tables away, watches Pike through a small rectangular cosmetics mirror as desperate bachelorettes approach the famous ale brewer. Here the scene cuts between Pike and his overwhelming female dilemma and a close-up of the mirror held mid-air by Jean while she verbally illustrates the action and dialogue transpiring in the background. Fed up from all the attention, Pike tries to exit the Dining Hall when he is abruptly and purposely tripped by Jean. She accuses him of breaking her heel, making him obligated to “help” her back to her cabin to change her shoes, where she gets him to herself  for a successful seduction.

Pike is immediately awakened and woed by Jean’s perfume being that he’s been “up the Amazon for a year”. Jean is an obvious aggressor whose actions are premeditated and so calculating that she receives the exact responses she expects. For instance, she allows Pike to pick out the new pair of shoes and makes him put them on her- a subliminally seductive tactic that works in her favor. Jean then leads Pike to a cushioned chair, instead of her bed, where they both plop down. She then pushes him down to the floor, establishing her superiority and caresses his hair as she talks to him, cheek to cheek. Pike’s respect for women is portrayed when he modestly pulls down Jean’s skirt, hem to knees.

Jean instantly starts a conversation about her “ideal” future husband- negating and pointing out Pike’s flaws as traits she does not want her ideal to have. She then bluntly claims that she wants her ideal to be shorter than her- so that he can “look up” to her (literally), ultimately making her his ideal- and rich. This prosaic confirmation was an insight into her conniving persona. Jean plays the damsel in distress one minute then transforms into this fast, smooth talking golddigger seductress. Pike plays a vulnerable, passive role in which Jean’s charm and tricks overcome him like a witch’s spell.

Jean’s most revealing wardrobe outfit was that of the scene just discussed in which her mid riff is exposed, showing off her slender, petite frame. She also only wears white or black attire. Black to catch her prey, downplaying her beauty and white to attract attention and place her cunning plan into motion. Her outfits are almost always bejeweled, defining her status as Jean, an oil industrialist’s daughter or Lady Eve Sidwich, foreign royalty.

In general, the scene’s backgrounds were that of simplistic elegance, nothing too over the top to take away from the interest of the storyline. The simplicity can be linked to the economic struggles in which the film was made.  As a post code film, Sturges successfully violated the prohibition rules combining sexually suggestive scenes with wit and comical humor, known as a screwball comedy. Overall women take the cake in this film through a role reversal where they can be an aggressor and initiator of romance. It also shows that women can outsmart their male counterpart and even rob him blind, only if their emotions don’t ultimately affect their final card play.

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One Comment

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    Monday, December 30, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

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