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Review: Sturges, Stanwyck Shine in Standout Blu-ray Release of 'The Lady Eve'

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 14, 2020
Review: Sturges, Stanwyck Shine in Standout Blu-ray Release of 'The Lady Eve'

In the pantheon of Hollywood greats, few filmmakers have reached the creative, financial and critical success as Preston Sturges did in the 1940s. While that success tapered off toward the end of the decade, resulting in one of the most depressing downward spirals of any career, "The Lady Eve" is among his best work. Even more, it may be one of the greatest screwball comedies ever made. Both Barbara Stanwyck and Peter Fonda are at the top of their game here, only bolstered by an all-time supporting cast that includes Charles Coburn, Melville Cooper, and Eric Blore.

The Criterion Collection brings the 1941 classic to Blu-ray with a stunning new 4K transfer that's leaps and bounds over the DVD they released in 2001. Plus, there's a bevy of special features that any fan of Sturges would be wrong to miss. In particular, a new conversation with Sturges' son Peter Sturges, filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich, James L. Brooks, Ron Shelton, and critics Susan King, Leonard Maltin, and Kenneth Turan is an especially revealing and even comforting look back at this classic.

Charles "Hopsie" Pike (Fonda) is a nerdy snake researcher who hops on a cruise liner in South America after finishing up one of his expeditions. Hopsie is also the heir to a massive fortune, which fellow cruise liner patrons like Jean Harrington (Stanwyck) and "Colonel" Harrington (Coburn) pick up on. Jean and the Colonel are two card sharps looking for their next score, and Hopsie is their new mark. But as Jean attempts to seduce Hopsie, she ends up falling in love, and that complicates things even further.

The thing about Preston Sturges that always has resonated with me is how his characters act in the face of immense fortune. Stanwyck is the perfect actress to portray the internal and external of fighting between love and money, plus Sturges always had a knack for rendering financial success as something flighty and unobtainable; that only with money comes personal destruction. And yes, of course, a lot of yuks. "The Lady Eve" is such a trenchant comedy in that Jean's con game is constantly interrupted by her own feelings, and that inner turmoil makes for some of the greatest moments in cinema history.

Take the most popular sequence in the film, where Jean is both seducing and conning Hopsie as he reclines on a chair. It's a three-minute master shot that can only be described as one of the sexiest things ever committed to film, with Jean twirling Hopsie's hair as he lays in a state of ecstasy. It's the perfect combination of Sturges' sturdy craftsmanship and his proclivity for being an actor's director.

This new Criterion Collection Blu-ray carries over most of the special features from the 2001 DVD release, as well as a terrific new video essay by critic David Cairns that emboldens an already terrific release even more. Since this is the kind of film that rightfully deserves all of the acclaim it has received and this release gives it the proper showcase, I highly recommend you pick this one up. Other special features include:

• Audio commentary from 2001 featuring film professor Marian Keane
• Introduction from 2001 by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
• Costume designs by Edith Head
• Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1942 featuring Barbara Stanwyck and Ray Milland
• Audio recording of "Up the Amazon," a song from an unproduced stage musical based on the film
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• An essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and a 1946 profile of Preston Sturges from LIFE magazine

"The Lady Eve"
Criterion Collection Blu-ray

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