Film Analysis: The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve (Paramount) opened in theatres in 1941 and was directed by Preston Sturges. It starred Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyk as our dainty couple, Charles and Jean. Jean Harrington is an extremely attractive con-woman who has mistakenly fallen in love with her prey, the handsome and wealthy Charles Pike, on a cruise ship from South America. When Charles finds out of her initial intentions, he breaks off the relationship and leaves the boat and Jean behind. Jean is later able to find out about Charles’ whereabouts and decides to return to his life as a British woman, Eve, as revenge for Charles’ mistreatment. Ironically, Charles falls for Eve as well, who later turns out to not be who he thought she was. They marry and get divorce within days. Charles returns back to the ship where he encounters Jean again, whom he quickly embraces as though he hasn’t seen her in months.

In this scene of The Lady Eve (Sturges, Paramount, 1941), the dapper Charles Pike, the son of the owner of Pike’s Pale, sits in the dining area of the cruise ship, and has aroused great interest from the female guest. Sturges uses music, a string ensemble, to set an airy and delicate mood throughout the scene, a mixture of framing (long shot, medium shot, and medium close-up), unique camera angles, and an interesting technological shot through a compact mirror, to emphasize the female prowess (golddigger) on a wealthy young man. Female sexuality is being used to attain higher economical status and recognition.  Their attempts are futile and so are many other working class peoples who try to gain access into higher classes. Yet, Jean’s subtle, cunning, and highly effective way of gaining Charles’ attention, is also a way of the crooked and con’s way of infiltrating a higher economic status. Though the scene is heavily comedic, it can be related to the hardships and the societal economic issues of that time.

The scene opens with a long shot of a packed dining area and a string music ensemble to set the light mood. Then there is a medium shot from behind the bartender looking outward over the dining area. We are looking over the bartenders shoulder at the waiters who constantly approach the bar, asking for ‘Pikes Pale’. Already all the guests are enthralled by the fact that a renowned, young, millionaire is in their presence and continue to order the ale, if not be for taste, for making an impression on Charles. “They don’t want nothing else. They want ‘The Ale that won for Yale, rah, rah, rah,’” says one of the waiters, showing that Charles’ presence has surely made up a stir. Our next shot is a close up on the book Charles is reading, Are Snakes Necessary? He seems to be completely engrossed in his own world not paying any mind to anyone else. The camera zooms out and we get a medium shot of Charles who finally looks up and notices a table fool of devoted Pikes Pale drinkers. All flaunting their glasses and bottles and cheery grins. It’s a great medium shot to show the table’s unified attempt at grasping Charles’ attention. W come back to Charles who looks away and notices another table with all eyes pinned in his direction.  Here there’s somewhat of a shallow depth of field with objects beyond the table and in front of the table, blurry.  Again, Charles looks back to his book and then notices a young woman batting her eyes at him. She looks quite fluorescent with a medium close-up. The lighting magnifies how attractive she seems but she hasn’t been able to holds Charles’ attention as he looks over to another women sensually biting a cigarette holder. Charles is seriously uncomfortable at this point, shifts his weight and turns to the other side to see a woman, whose face indicates that she finds her ale distasteful but is then called to attention by her friend, and pastes on a lovely smile at Charles.  Charles quickly sticks his head back into is book. We already get the sense that Charles isn’t the suave ladies’ man who would gladly entertain the stare of these many women. It’s apparent that he is much more cautious as to who he approaches and who he entertains. He finds this attention unsettling as he seems to be the only prey in a sea of sharks.

We then go to a medium-shot of Jean and her father Colonel Harrington. She sits at the table with a compact mirror reflecting where Charles is sitting. Unlike the other women, she’s in all black. We already get the sense that she’s sultry, seductive, and intelligent.  She declares that none of the women in the room is good enough for him and begins to speak very theatrically, detailing every moment and emotion of Charles and the other women. Then we get an extremely beautiful long shot of Charles’ table through the mirror that Jean is holding. She speaks as a voice-over to the action taking place at Charles’ table. A wonderfully choreographed scene with each female attempting to lure Charles into their web. It’s a great shot mainly due to Jean’s commentary of the action and even a portion of role playing as she says the lines for one of the women that approach Charles and his responses.  Her comments are tremendously funny and she downplays every girl that passes. The camera moves through the compact mirror while we see her hand holding the mirror and is in slight motion. She exploits and ridicules all of the female’s attempts to get Charles attention and eventually Charles decides to leave.

There’s a medium shot of Jean sticking out her foot as Charles trips over and falls on a waiter. The two stand face to face. Charles in an all white suit and Jean in a black dress. Now, we clearly see some mischievous intentions of this fascinating lady and the contrast with the ‘bookworm’ Charles. Jeans tells Charles that he’s broken her shoe and speaks rapidly telling him he will accompany her to her cabin to get another pair of shoes, Charles obliges and introduces himself, Jean responds nonchalantly, introduces Charles to her father, and quickly hurries him off. She has quickly captivated his attention and he’s unknowingly, already, bitten the fruit that will rattle his world. Then there’s a long shot of the two exiting off as everyone in the dining area watches them. Jean hooks on to Charles and waltzes, with a limp, out of the area, with a grin of victory. Jean’s “Funny our meeting like this isn’t?” claims to be a series of coincidence, but was only due to her plotting. The obvious flaunting by the other women exposed themselves to be dangerous and just unappealing. They all desire a chance to snag the rich guy and to get access to another economic level. Though the comedy may be seen as just pure entertainment, it showed the economic reality of everyone trying to get out of the dumps and gain a greater economic status by any means.

In this scene, female sexuality was revealed in a slight way, but was unable to be successful. In later scenes, Jean, flaunts her sexuality and eventually succeeds in luring Charles in and deceiving him into losing money. In tough circumstances, many are unable to “play fair” in their lives and become con-men and women, using deception to move up in society. Jean’s move was subtle but very effective and it helped her gain the access to wealth.

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