Lady Eve

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 05-03-2010

It takes a clever film such as “Lady Eve” to remind me of the striking differences between today’s risqué comedies and those of the glory days of cinema. I would go so far as to compare a comedy where constraints force the artist to find loopholes in what’s accepted to a low budget film. I have always been a massive fan of the low budget arena, particularly that of horror, not that “Lady Eve” is by any means frightening, but more scrutiny and meticulous care is used to execute it. Because of the relaxed standards of today’s cinema we find studios cranking out films that appeal to the teenage crowd and deal with romance in a rather perverse and direct way. Such as is the case with films like American Pie, Something about Mary, and Knocked up. This is not to say they aren’t massively entertaining, but that our standard for showing has caught up with our curiosity for knowing. It is this fleeting discrepancy in standards that has severed the imaginative cord between the build-up and the punch line.
I would also like to argue that Preston Sturges brief illustrious career blossomed because he happened to be at the right place at the right time. (Even if it did take him forty years to do it.) His attitudes regarding the restrictions in the Hollywood system is expressed in the satirical emphasis that he puts on the fine line between the moral and the taboo. “Lady Eve” is essentially the old boy meets girl coming of age story with one small catch; it’s a Preston Sturges film. He works around the Hollywood code by cleverly creating scenes that are thick with sexual tension and innuendo. In the scene where Barbra Stanwyck and Henry Fonda are lying cheek to cheek, the tension is so high because at the time an intimate kiss would be unthinkable and that expectation is what suspends the suspense and humor throughout the scene. Let us not forget either that this is supposed to be a coming of age story for Henry Fonda’s character. A man who studies snakes (the epitome of all phallic representations), as well as keeps losing the one that he keeps in a box. Like a filmmaker working with a restricted budget, Sturges finds creative ways to indirectly say what he wants to say while at the same time making fun of the Hollywood moral code.
When I think back to his other work “Sullivan’s Travels”, it becomes clearer that Preston Sturges was one of the pioneers in revolutionizing the content of the cinema. As the just mentioned film is also self reflexive in terms of its criticism of the way films were being made at the time, except it dealt with context more than the content of the cinema.
I would like to make another comparison between films like “Lady Eve”, a well made comedy, to “Psycho”, a powerful horror film. Most of the blood and terrifying images in “Psycho” are suggested. We see the knife and hear the stab, but don’t see it. Although if we think back to the scene, we imagine we did see gratuitous violence when there is no blood spilt onscreen. This element of audience participation in putting the pieces together makes for a more memorable image. We all know that a joke that requires explanation is inferior to the joke where our mind makes the connection. We all make the connection in our own unique way, so laughter is fused with a sense of personal satisfaction from successfully connecting the two. “Lady Eve” is one of those jokes. It always comes close to making those connections for you but the innuendo is much funnier than actually having it graphically depicted for us.
Today’s standards for what’s accepted as well as what’s expected, has created almost a new category of cinema. The contemporary pornographic comedy like a Farrelly Brothers film or a gorefest like “Saw”, accosts the senses, desensitizing us from things that would otherwise be shocking if meticulously crafted to allow participation of the audiences imagination.

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1 Comment So Far

Richard Wharton on 16 March, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

Sturges, I believe, did revolutionize the cinema by letting the audience make their own assumption during the film. I agree with you on films like “Psycho”, and “Jaws” where both directors (Hitchcock and Spielberg, respectively) believed that what the audience didn’t see, (the murder, the shark) created more suspense. The audience was then given license to imagine their own perspective regarding these scenes. Truly, these films are more memorable than those films, for example “Saw” as mentioned in your blog.

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