Unfortunately, the most obvious thing to comment on regarding The Lady Eve may just be the most commented-on issue in film studies, a topic that’s been given more than its due elsewhere here. But, it is what it is: gender role reversal. It’s Preston Sturges again, who gloried in twisting his narrative to clash with viewer expectations. The recently viewed Unfaithfully Yours morbidly allowed us into the fantasy world of a jealous and overly imaginative husband who wanted to murder his wife. Here, we’re given some pretty remarkable access to the woman Jean/Eve (Barbara Stanwyck). The narrative, really, is told from her point of view more than anyone else’s, and it’s her desire that gets the front seat to Charles’ (Henry Fonda) mutual affection countered by his own naïveté. So therein’s the twist, although the title betrays a more conventional tendency, one that has been around since the beginning of time: finger-pointing at the woman, the temptress, the first sinner. Interesting how the original Edenic account got twisted and the blame got shifted; as if there weren’t a serpent in the tree doing the real tempting, poor Eve is not so much seen as the first sinner as the one tempting the man to sin. This constitutes what they call a “trope,” that awful word connoting a pattern that humanity can’t seem to get away from and in which cinema comes to a comfortable rest whether or not it means to. Charles has a pet snake, but he’s rather oblivious to the implications behind such an animal. Eve, on the other hand, is terrified of it to the point of imagining its presence when it’s nowhere near her. We could investigate these things further, but it would be too much.
The Lady Eve: Sinner/Seductress