Thursday, March 11, 2010

Henry Fonda does comedy!

TCM is showing a night of Charles Coburn movies tonight, kicking off with the Preston Sturges comedy The Lady Eve at 8:00 PM ET.

Fonda plays young Charles Pike, the heir to the Pike Ale business. However, he's not so interested in beer-making, instead showing an interest in herpetology. So, when the movie opens, we first see Pike coming back from an expedition to the Amazon. The boats to and from South America are filled with interesting characters, and tis one is no different, as a pair of card sharps shows up: Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), and her father the "Colonel" (Charles Coburn). They obviously know Pike is on the trip, and figure he's an easy mark for money. However, what Jean doesn't count on is that she's going to fall in love with him.

At first, Pike reciprocates, until he finds out the true identity of Jean, that she's a fraudster and not the high-class lady she's been making herself out to be. At that point, he breaks off contact with her and returns home to his family. However, Jean is still in love with him, and decides to get a measure of revenge by showing up at one of the Pike family parties as the Lady Eve. Although she's determined to pay him back for what he did, Jean/Eve doesn't realize that she's still actually in love with Pike....

This being a comedy, you know it's going to have a happy ending. However, it's the way we get there that makes this movie so much fun. Barbara Stanwyck could do almost anything, and she's as adept at comedy here as she wsa in Ball of Fire. Fonda's comedic style, if you can call it that, seems to be more that of the straight guy, the one who was the funny things happen around him or even to him. He's much less wacky than, say, the Lucille Ball character in Yours, Mine, and Ours. Still, it's not an easy thing to pull off, and Fonda did it a number of times in his career. Charles Coburn is a natural for this sort of role, that of the playfully scheming older gentleman. And the rest of the supporting cast is just as usually good as it always is in a Preston Sturges movie. Eugene Pallette plays Father Pike; Sturges regular William Demarest shows up as young Pike's valet; and veteran butler Eric Blore as one of Colonel Harrington's gang of conmen. They're all helped by a typically glittering script from Sturges.

The Lady Eve, like most of Sturges' work, has made it to DVD.

No comments: