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The Lady Eve – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Here’s another screwball classic getting the Blu-ray upgrade from The Criterion Collection. The Lady Eve is a wonderful romantic comedy about a con gone wrong due to feelings getting in the way. Preston Sturges is in peak form with this film, knocking it out the same year as another one of his classics, Sullivan’s Travels. The combined screen energy from Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda is already enough to deliver something worthwhile, but thanks to sharp writing and a sense of poignancy, the film has many raising it to much higher ground.

Film:

Fonda is Charles Pike, a snake expert, just returning from an expedition in the Amazon. While many ladies want his attention, Jean Harrington (Stanwyck), a con artist, is merely looking to fleece Charles for his riches. The problem is, Jean falls for Charles, but despite giving up on the con, Charles’ aid Muggsy (William Demarest) discovers the truth and rats her out. Not ready to settle after being dumped, Jean re-enters Charles’ life posing as another woman, Lady Eve, and the comedic romance adventure continues.

You can’t go wrong with the well-regarded films of the 40s, one of cinema’s greatest decades, and 1941 sure has a lot of greats as well. Everyone is in top form here. Fonda, in between more serious fare, knows precisely how to play into a bumbling, shy personality required for his role as Charles. Stanwyck is delivering on all levels, given the trickiness of her role. To play a sophisticated, graceful con-woman, and yet have a believable charge that comes from seeing true romantic feelings requires more than a little effort, and it all works out for the film to succeed based on these pivotal characters.

It’s also in Stanwyck’s character that we can see the evolution of film. Rather than have the man as the con-artist, you have a smart woman clearly in control of what she is after. When it doesn’t work the first time, a new idea comes about, adding to both the slapstick element of the humor, as well as some light satirical touches. Sure, there is deception built into the plotting of the film, but that’s countered by the depth of Jean, and what the ultimate satisfaction for the character would be.

Outside of the two lead actors, there’s a solid supporting cast serving as springboards for additional comedy. The various interactions keep the pace up for a film that’s relatively light on its feet. There is time for putting romance on display and letting characters think, but it never gets in the way of the comedy, nor is there ever too much downtime in between notable events in the film.

As a battle of wits between two great characters, there’s plenty to enjoy. The Lady Eve exemplifies what made this genre special, let alone what can come from it when a master is at work. With great actors and a strong level of confidence in the filmmaking, this film has all everyone needs when looking for a great screwball comedy.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Details: Multiple third and fourth-generation copies of the film held by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Library of Congress were combed, resulting in a 35mm fine-grain master positive from Universal Studios being found to scan for this film. The new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner.

Clarity/Detail: Overall, the black and white image is about as terrific as it can be, given the work done for this transfer. Even with the complications in finding a proper copy that prevents this restoration from being truly perfect, the work has been done.

Depth: A proper handle on spacing keeps the image from ever feeling flat. The intricate work done with this restoration does such a fine job of showing the distance between characters, which is especially important in the film’s scenes taking place in ballrooms, where we see so many characters and activity taking place.

Black Levels: The black levels are great. Minor fading in some instances

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the actual characters is impressive,

Noise/Artifacts: With so much work to deliver a strong new transfer of this film, there is little to complain about. There is a consistent level of grain that is to be expected, but this film is basically spotless, as all the dirt, damage, stains, etc. has been cleaned up.

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English LPCM 1.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm fine-grain master positive using Avid’s Pro Tools and iZotope RX.

Dynamics: The audio is clear and stable throughout. It’s clear enough when it comes to following along with all the verbal exchanges. That said, it’s an old track and there’s only so much to do to create the best audio track possible.

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: You can hear all the zings. 

Extras:

The Lady Eve arrives on Blu-ray with a nice collection of extras adding various perspectives from today on what the film has accomplished, in addition to looks at the career of Sturges and more.

Features Include:

  • Introduction (SD, 8:00) – Recorded in 2001, featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich.
  • Audio Commentary with film scholar Marian Keane – Recorded in 2001, featured on the original DVD release.
  • Tom Sturges and Friends (HD, 42:12) – Here’s an online video conference (yup, this was recorded in 2020 for sure), featuring Tom Sturges, son of Preston Sturges, who discusses the legacy of this film and his father with critics/filmmakers/scholars James L. Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan King, Kenneth Turan, Leonard Maltin, and Ron Shelton.
  • The Lady Deceives (HD, 21:38) – A new video essay from critic/filmmaker David Cairns.
  • Costume Designs by Edith Head (HD, 7:00) – A look at the costumes created for the film by famed costume designer Edith Head.
  • Lux Radio Theatre (HD, 45:00) – Cecil B. DeMille hosts a 1942 radio adaptation featuring Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, and Charles Coburn.
  • “Up the Amazon” (HD, 5:00) – An opening number of a theatrical musical based on The Lady Eve.
  • Trailer (HD, 2:00)
  • PLUS – An essay by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien, and a 1946 profile of Preston Sturges from Life magazine.

 

Summary:

The Lady Eve is just one of those films that work. It has everything required to make one of the best examples of a screwball romantic comedy. Sturges is in peak form, and Fonda and Stanwyck bring precisely what’s needed for the film’s witty screenplay. Criterion has not disappointed in terms of this release. The restored picture and audio is terrific, and there are plenty of extras to dig into as well. For fans of screwball comedies or those in need of something that flies by and is a lot of fun, The Lady Eve is a great one to pick up.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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