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Without a doubt, THE LADY EVE ($40) is one of the greatest comedies of the silver screen. Made during the blaze of brilliance of writer/director Preston Sturges, THE LADY EVE cleverly combines sophisticated comic dialogue and slapstick to create a perfect screwball confection. The plot of THE LADY EVE concerns Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), the introspective heir to a brewing fortune. On a return trip from South America, Pike encounters a pair of cardsharps, 'Colonel' Harrington (Charles Coburn) and his daughter Jean (Barbara Stanwyck), who plan on fleecing the nave millionaire. Unexpectedly, Jean falls in love with her mark and before she can tell him the truth about herself, Pike’s gruff and suspicious "manservant" Muggsy (William Demarest), beats her to the punch. Pike breaks off the relationship and the heartbroken Jean vows revenge. Feigning a British accent, Jean transforms herself into the Lady Eve Sidwich and proceeds to get Pike to fall in love with her all over again- just so she can break his heart.

The plot of THE LADY EVE is so utterly preposterous that it shines in its comic brilliance. Barbara Stanwyck was never so alluring as she was in her dual roles in THE LADY EVE. Sure, her bad girl roles may have had more raw sex appeal, but the subtle sexuality and innuendo of this role allowed her to smolder and push censorship to the limit. Actually, the sophistication of this Sturges comedy probably confused the censors in the Hayes office, who would shot down some of the same scenes in a straight drama. Henry Fonda wouldn’t be anyone choice for a great comic actor, but Sturges uses Fonda in deadpan fashion to create a tremendous comic effect. William Demarest, who was part of Sturges’ stock company, manages to steal a few scenes as the one truly unsophisticated character in the film and the only one able to see the truth right in front of his face. The cast of THE LADY EVE also features Eugene Pallette, Eric Blore, Melville Cooper, Martha O'Driscoll and Janet Beecher.

The Criterion Collection has done a wonderful job of transferring THE LADY EVE to the DVD medium. Utilizing a duplicate 35mm negative, Criterion has produced a beautiful looking black and white transfer in the film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Certainly, there are some flaws in the film elements to remind one that THE LADY EVE is sixty years old. Scratches, blemishes and little hiccups do make their presence known, but they are never terribly distracting. The image is fairly crisp and provides good definition. Blacks are ink and the contrast is quite smooth, rendering subtle shades of gray. There is some of noticeable film grain, but no one than one generally encounters in films of this vintage. Clean dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts well disguised.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack has been "sweetened" to remove most of the age related anomalies. With the background hiss and other noises reduced, one can hear the film’s dialogue cleanly and with full intelligibility. Due to the limited fidelity, the film’s music can be a tad shrill sounding, but only if the volume is pushed to uncomfortable levels.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a solid supplemental section. Starting things off is a video introduction by director Peter Bogdanovich. Next up is a rather scholarly, but still accessible running audio commentary by Marian Keane. A Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of THE LADY EVE starring Barbara Stanwyck and Ray Milland is also provided on the DVD. Also included is a scrapbook of various behind-the-scenes photos and text materials. A look at Edith Head’s costume designs, plus a theatrical trailer close out the supplemental materials.

After sixty years, Preston Sturges’ THE LADY EVE remains as a genuine delight. Criterion has produced a good-looking presentation of the film and a nice array of supplements for fans, making this a disc that film buffs will want to own. Hopefully, Criterion will revisit Preston Sturges and release THE PALM BEACH STORY and THE GREAT MCGINTY on DVD as well.


The Lady Eve - Criterion Collection


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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