Preston Sturges’, The Lady Eve (1941), is a film whose genius lies not within its cinematography, but mainly in its story and concept. Despite the fact that the movie was made 70 years ago, it still comes across as bold and wonderfully refreshing. Described as a ‘twisted fairytale,’ the story is of a woman, Jean, who attempts to con the male protagonist, Pike, into taking his money and eventually marrying her.
Rather than Jean being a one-dimensional character we still often see women playing, Sturges makes her layered and honest. Jean, from the beginning, is both cynical and vulnerable, both cunning and naive. As opposed to being the poor damsel in distress, it is Jean who often protects Pike from ‘evil,’ but she is also the snake that intoxicates and poisons him with her own evil. Regardless of her villainous side, we sympathize with Jean because we respect her for her ability to act and we embrace her for vulnerability. At the same token, we expect Pike to be this simple, rich playboy, but he is also a paradox. He is both attractive and oafish, as well as, sincere and fake. For example, throughout the movie he is constantly being conned by both Jean and her father- you could even say they had his head on a pike, nudge nudge- but then you also see him ‘spitting’ the same ‘game’ to both Jean and Eve. So in reality, who is conning who?
Sturges effectively adds to these characters with his choices in wardrobe. Granted, the movie is in black and white, so for all I know, they could have been wearing different shades of purple the whole time, but for the sake of my argument, I’ll assume they didn’t. As expected, Jean is first wearing an all black dress and Pike is wearing an all white Tuxedo, clearly juxtaposing the idea of innocence vs. impurity. As the movie progresses, however, they do not stay so type casted, but eventually have a mix of both darks and lights. Sturges is thus illustrating not so much that they are changing, but rather that their true colors are showing, which are not just one color, but rather a mix. In other words, “good girls arent as good as they are, bad girls aren’t as bad.” In one scene particularly, Jean and Pike are both wearing a youthful accessory, a tie and a hat. This highlights the fact that although people may come off as clear cut and obvious, there are always multiple strings and complications, in this case, youthful innocence.
While the movie is obviously playing off the idea of Adam & Eve -the opening credits are an animation of a snake in a tree, Pike is a scientist that studies snakes, and Jean often eats apple- to the success of the movie, it does not stay within that box, but, instead, uses it as starting point for exploring other realms. The Lady Eve addresses these social roles men and women fall into and breaks them. Who’s to say the woman is the one who needs to rely on the man? At the end, it is Pike who is overwhelmed by his love for Jean, so much so, that he overcomes his meekness, and unabashedly, takes her to her room. Furthermore, it addresses the idea of love as a whole. What is it that makes an ideal marriage? The two characters fall in love with each other in less than 3 days and have this, to say the least, crazy romance which starts in deceit and ends in love.
Perhaps the underlying message is something akin to ‘fools rush in,’ but more likely, it is about how relationships are complicated, fragile things. It seems that in modern day, thanks to things like Facebook and celebrity couples, we tend to care more about perception and overlook complexity and originality. Ultimately, Sturges is saying love is not complicated, but rather, the people in love are complicated. It is often one person trying to con the other into believing a twisted reality, and when they are more understanding and upfront about their own faults and misgivings, the relationship blossoms. Furthermore, love is not one single equation, but each individual relationship has a different series of variables. Or maybe the moral is never bring a horse on a date. Either way, both valuable things to know.