11 July 2001 | fowler1
A Tonic For The Senses
As a lifelong Preston Sturges fan, I find the problem with submitting 'user comments' on his films to be twofold. The first is where to begin, the second how to stop. A third problem (growing out of the first two) manifests itself immediately upon watching a flawless jewel like THE LADY EVE: why even bother to praise it? No matter how accurate or elegant a rave you write, they'd still be merely words, and words can't do Sturges justice...not after hearing and seeing his own words spinning like a thousand plates over the 90-odd minutes it takes for this film to utterly captivate you. Unlike many black-and-white products of the studio era, which generate condescension or apathy among the Gen X'ers of today (when do we get to Gen Z - or are we there already?), the Sturges cult grows with every passing year, as younger fans fall under his spell, drawn initially to his work for the still-startling energy of the stream of raspberries he blew at the Production Code. (In this sense, EVE marks a high point; it's all about sexual gamesmanship, and its tone is both matter-of-fact and dizzyingly playful at the same time.) But hopefully, they're coming for the sizzle and staying for the steak. Like all Sturges' Paramount films, EVE is an embarrassment of riches - a boudoir farce, a slapstick clinic, a cynical dialogue comedy AND a love story of great, soulful heart. It's especially recommended to anyone beset by misery and tribulation as a guaranteed restorative and cure-all. When a movie from any era can so completely take you out of yourself and lift the blackest of clouds without resorting to any cheapjack plot-gimmicks or trite manipulation of an audience's emotions, all you can do is be grateful. Though the unfailingly superb Sturges Players are on hand, in fine form (including of course his human rabbit's foot, Wm Demarest) EVE features a number of actors making their first and only appearances in a Sturges-directed film: Stanwyck, Fonda, Eric Blore, Melville Cooper and perennial Fonda cohort Eugene Pallette. All of them take to the material like catnip, making one long for an alternate reality in which Preston Sturges could have remained unmolested at Paramount for 20 years and a dozen more films than he actually made, not only to see this cast reunited, but to see what might have resulted from any number of quality actors being exposed to the hothouse atmosphere of his screenplays. That it never worked out that way is one more reason to treasure THE LADY EVE.