Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Lady Eve (1941)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The next morning to the horror of the steward and Gerald, Muggsy makes his breakfast order: "Gimme a spoonful of milk, a raw pigeon's egg and four house flies. If you can't catch any, I'll settle for a cockroach." Muggsy brings the meal to Pike's cabin, where he is shaving, and sticks the plate in Emma's box. Muggsy is intuitively suspicious that Gerald used a cold deck on him - Charles can only assure him of his confidence in his own expert card game with the Harringtons and his $600 winnings. Muggsy suspects that Charles has already been fleeced: "They might know a couple of tricks you ain't seen yet."

The next morning, Jean wakes up screaming in her stateroom, having dreamt all night about "that slimy snake." [Sexual images that have been sublimated and repressed return in her dreams. The appearance of the snake compels her to become aware of her marital time-clock, and she is primed to fall in love with a younger man.] Her father runs into her room in his dressing gown, and learns that Pike, their next hapless target, "travels with a snake act" and is also "in the ale business." They have not set up the wrong man or let him win the first round's play ("sweetened the wrong kitty") for naught - "he's the real McPike." Sitting on the bed, the card-shark Colonel deals four hands in front of his confederate daughter, showing her and bragging about how he can magically and quickly locate four aces in the deck. At the conclusion of the scene, she smiles at her father, like a little girl, and asks for her fortune to be told. On deck above the swimming pool, Charles waits anxiously for a view of Jean - to join him for breakfast. She appears with a single long-stemmed rose in her hand, thanking him for his gift. He imagines life with her - referring to his penchant for falling down and bouncing up again:

Charles: I was just gonna say I could imagine a life with you being a series of ups and downs, lights and shadows, some irritation, but very much happiness.
Jean: Why Hopsie! Are you proposing to me so soon?
Charles: No, of course not. I'm just...
Jean: Then you ought to be more careful. People have been sued for much less.
Charles: Not by girls like you.
Jean: Don't you know it's dangerous to trust people you don't know very well?
Charles: But I know you very well.
Jean: No, I mean the people you haven't known very long.
Charles: I've known you a long time in a way.

That evening in Harrington's cabin, the Colonel rapidly shuffles packs of cards, preparing to play cards - "and I don't mean Old Maid." Jean admits to her father that she has slowly fallen in love with Charles, making it more difficult for her to victimize him. Until this time, the Colonel has obviously been delighted with the progress of events, anxiously awaiting taking advantage of Charles. But now he realizes that Jean, who has fallen in love with Charles, doesn't want him to be conned as "a specimen of the Sucker sapiens." The seductress has become a pushover for romance and admits her love for Charles, going so far as asserting that he should reform himself, go "straight" and become "peaceful." Jean decides to protect Charles from her father's shrewd swindling:

Jean: I think I'm in love with the poor fish, snakes and all...He's kinda touched something in my heart and I'd give a lot to be, well I mean I, I'm going to be exactly the way he thinks I am, the way he'd like me to be.
Harrington: I'm sure that's very noble, Jean, and I wish you all the happiness in the world - all the little boys and all the little girls you want.
Jean: And you'll go straight too, won't you, Harry?
Harrington (retorting): Straight to where?
Jean: Oh, you know what I mean. You can come and live with us, and you too Gerald - part of the time, anyway. We'll probably have a very beautiful place. Think how peaceful you can be.
Harrington: Playing cribbage with Gerald. I can just see myself roaming around your estate with a weedsticker and fifty cents a week. And a pair of new slippers for Christmas. The trouble with people who reform is they always want to rain on everybody else's parade too. You tend to your knitting. I'll play the cards.
Jean: Not with him.

Although she is warned by her father, she plans to intervene, outsmarting and out-tricking 'Harry' in his own card game. This causes him to remark: "Children don't respect their parents any more." When Jean deals cards during a three-handed poker game that evening in the smoking room, she outwits her father and gives him a terrible playing hand (a two, five, nine, jack, and a four of assorted suits). The Colonel coughs, reaches for his handkerchief, and then examines his hand a second time (now magically showing four kings and a two). After some heavy bidding with Charles, Jean reaches out suddenly and swaps the Colonel's cards with another hand (Harrington's hand now shows two sixes, a four, an eight, and a ten of assorted suits). After reaching for additional betting money in his wallet, the Colonel again cheats (his hand is transformed into four aces and a three). To prevent her father from winning by outcheating her romantic interest, Jean flips the top card - an ace - from the deck up on the table. She turns and looks at her father. He returns a dirty look toward his daughter, folds his cards, and announces as he is forced to throw in the towel: "I regret to say that I was bluffing. Spare me the shame of showing you on what."

After winning the hand with four queens, Charles is only a thousand dollars behind, and Jean firmly insists, on his word of honor, that he stop playing and meet her on the 'A' deck in five minutes. As soon as she has left the table, Charles hesitantly announces his intention, with a mid-sentence clearing of the throat, to marry his daughter. The Colonel reacts with astonishment to the news:

Harrington: Well, it was the last thing that entered my mind. Bless my soul. Let's have a drink on that...I'm all emotional. To say that I am thunderstruck is an understatement. She'll probably turn you down, but anyway...
Charles: I intend to make her as happy as I can.
Harrington: She asks very little.
Charles: I suppose you know I'm very rich.
Harrington: Aren't we all?
Charles: I'm sorry in a way because it would be so pleasant to buy lovely non-sensities for somebody who never had them.
Harrington: Wouldn't it? That's the tragedy of the rich. They don't need anything.

Professing that he doesn't like winning even a thousand dollars from Charles: "A father who wins from his own son in law." The Colonel proposes a game of double or nothing. Soon after, without keeping his promise to Jean, Charles is cutting cards and loses $32,000 in a few minutes. The Colonel feigns discomfort at his winnings, requesting that Charles make out the check to Cash. Charles guiltily signs it Charles Poncefort Pike, embarrassingly requesting that the Colonel not tell Jean his middle name or anything about the whole transaction. Becoming impatient on deck, Jean returns and protests, angered at her father and Charles ("You need a keeper!") for continuing to gamble. The Colonel graciously takes the check, rolls it into a ball, and tears it up in front of them, and deposits the remains in an ash tray: "You don't actually think I'd bleed my daughter's own friend, do you?"

On the windy bow of the boat in the moonlight in a romantic scene, Charles delivers a love speech about his intentions to be engaged to her - he imagines her as a "little girl." In frank terms, they both agree that they wish they were married and on their honeymoon. At its conclusion, Charles kisses her passionately:

Charles: I've just understood something. You see, every time I've looked at you here on the boat, it wasn't only here I saw you. You seemed to go way back. I know that isn't clear but I, I saw you here and at the same time further away, and then still further away; and then very small, like converging perspective lines. No, that isn't it, it's like, like people following each other in a forest glade. Only way back there, you're a little girl with a short dress and your hair falling to your shoulders and a little boy is standing with you holding your hand. In the middle distance I'm still with you, not holding your hand anymore because it isn't manly, but wanting to. And then still further, we look terrible. You with your legs like a colt and mine like a calf. What I'm trying to say is -- only I'm not a poet, I'm an ophiologist -- I've always loved you. I mean I've never loved anyone but you. I know that sounds dull as a drugstore novel, and what I see inside I'll never be able to cast into words, but that's what I mean. I wish we were married and on our honeymoon now.
Jean: So do I. But it isn't as simple as all that, Hopsie. I'm terribly in love, and you seem to be too, so one of us has to think and try and keep things clear. And maybe I can do that better than you can. They say a moonlit deck is a woman's business office.

[He delivers a similar speech to her a second time when Jean assumes a different identity as Lady Eve - this suggests how his romantic interest is a fantasy creation.]

Muggsy, Charles' faithful valet, continues to be suspicious about the Harringtons, protecting Charles from swindlers - financial and romantic both. At the purser's desk, he tells the purser how he is watching out for 'the Pike kid,' protecting his boss from notorious card shark swindlers on board. The purser suggests that he might have some confidential photographs of some of the better known, alleged professional card players.

The Colonel is worried that his daughter's infatuation for Charles will be dangerous for her heart. Charles is a "narrow-minded" and "righteous" man who will only be disdainful and won't forgive her for deceiving him. He presumes that Jean will tell Charles that they are deceiving con artists before they are married, but ONLY after they leave the boat "to be fair to Gerald and to me." He expresses his best wishes for her happiness: "I hope you'll never be unhappy." She replies: "I hope I'll never be more unhappy than I am right now."

In their usual meeting place on deck, Charles paces up and down waiting for Jean to appear. Muggsy has finally obtained proof that the Harringtons are card sharps and he approaches with the purser, who carries an 8 x 10 envelope in his hand. The purser decisively tells Charles to look at the contents. A candid photograph inside shows Jean, her father, and Gerald descending a boat's gangplank - it identifies the Harringtons as crooks with multiple aliases: "'Handsome Harry' Harrington, his daughter Jean and third character known as Gerald. Professional card sharps; also bunko, oil wells, gold mines, and occasionally green goods. Harrington also known as Dr. Herscher, Major D. D. Brown, the Rev. Dr. Upswitch, Capt. Julius Joyce, retired, C. K. J. Malvern..."

When Charles learns her true identity from his protective bodyguard, he reacts with miserable distress, but strides stoically to the bar and orders a stiff drink. Jean arrives behind him in the ship's bar, wondering why he looks so worried and crestfallen, and guessing that it's because he is "falling in love with a girl in the middle of an ocean." Truthful for once in her life, the gold-digger admits her authentic love for him and her mistakes:

Jean: You see, Hopsie, you don't know very much about a girl! The best ones aren't as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren't as bad. Not nearly as bad. So I suppose you're right to worry, falling in love with an adventuress on the high seas.
Charles: (bitterly) Are you an adventuress?
Jean: Of course I am. All women are. They have to be. If you waited for a man to propose to you from natural causes, you'd die of old maidenhood. That's why I let you try my slippers on. And then I put my cheek against yours. And then I made you put your arms around me. (softly) And then I, I fell in love with you, which wasn't in the cards.

Midstream, she realizes that he's found out about her. After he shows her the picture, she gently explains the truth about herself, with tears forming in her eyes. In the first of two such incidents in the film, she confesses to her mate - setting right his illusions of her innocence. She expresses vulnerability about wanting him to love her more - before telling him who she really was:

Rotten likeness, isn't it? I never cared for that picture...Please don't look so upset, darling. I was going to tell you when we got to New York. I would have told you last night, only it wouldn't have been fair to Harry and Gerald. I mean you, you never know how someone's going to take things like that. And well, maybe I wanted you to love me a little more too. You believe me, don't you? You don't think I was gonna marry you without telling you? You don't think that badly of me? Or do you?

Not able to trust her any longer and unable to forgive her [as Jean's father had forewarned her about righteous and narrow-minded people], a grim Charles doesn't appreciate her sensitivity and sincerity. He refuses to listen to her explanation and is unable to see the love behind her deception. He is concerned only with bolstering up his own damaged pride. Lying, he tells her that he knew the truth about her from almost the beginning, and then played her for the sucker and dumped her. Jean is utterly astonished: "You mean you were playing me for a sucker? I don't believe it. But if you were, if you were just trying to make me feel cheap and hurt me, you succeeded handsomely. You ought to be very proud of yourself, Mr. Pike, very proud of yourself!"

After tasting her 'forbidden fruit,' he prepares to leave the ship, his veritable Garden of Eden - wiser but saddened. She hurries to her cabin where she throws herself across her bed, despairing and sobbing uncontrollably. Through her tears, she tells her father that her romantic passion will now be played out with hatred. Jean is determined to avenge her broken heart and get even with the man who distrusted and rejected her.

While docking in New York as they stand by the railing, Jean is seething with anger and lust for revenge: "When I think we let that sucker off scot free, it makes my blood boil." Her father airily tells his embittered, but composed daughter: "I told you not to mix business with pleasure." She is bolstered by Harrington's revelation that he palmed Charles' $32,000 check and only pretended to destroy it. He takes the crumpled check out of his waistcoat pocket and hands it to her, while Gerald suggests: "Two strokes with a hot iron, it will come out like new." Jean smiles faintly in Charles' direction, feeling slightly vindicated: "I feel a lot better already."

In the grandstands at the horse races, the Harringtons meet up with an old friend, and fellow shyster/confederate, now calling himself Sir Alfred "Pearlie" McGlennan-Keith R. F. D. (Eric Blore). His latest scam has positioned him in Connecticut "on the edge of a town called Bridgefield, a town that's full of millionaires. It's in the heart of the contract bridge belt, a wonderful game." Posing as an English aristocrat, he fleeces members of high society ('chumps') in games of bridge: "one doesn't have to meet them - one fights them off with sticks." Jean's ears are pricked when she learns that her father's friend lives near the Pike home and is currently socializing with them in Bridgefield: "Do I know them! I positively swill in their ale." While her father objects, she persuades "Pearlie" to arrange to have her visit and be presented and introduced at a dinner party given by the Pikes. But she must become an English woman.

With no disguise except an English accent, she will be honored as a visiting, beautiful and upstanding English aristocratic society belle named Lady Eve Sidwich, Keith's fictitious British niece. With her face in a full-frame close-up, haloed by the brim of her round black hat, she explains (with a clipped English accent) her vengeful unfinished business to gain the upper hand again against Charles Pike. She grits her teeth with one of the film's most famous lines:

I need him like the axe needs the turkey.

In the kitchen of the Pike's residence, elaborate preparations are being made for a dinner party to meet "Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith's niece - the Lady Eve Sidwich." The house is in an uproar. Charles' rotund, frog-voiced father, Mr. Horace Pike (Eugene Pallette) becomes increasingly impatient at not being served breakfast during the morning, culminating in his becoming exasperated - he madly clangs metal pot-lids together like cymbals. [The scene surrounding the Pike household is reminiscent of similar family chaos within the Bullock family, again headed by Eugene Pallette, in My Man Godfrey (1936).]

In her grand entrance, Lady Eve pulls up in a slightly old-fashioned Rolls Royce with Sir Alfred. Acting as doorman, Muggsy is immediately suspicious of the veiled woman who appears in the back seat - and later peers through the windows of the mansion to get a better look - in physical appearance, she looks suspiciously like Jean Harrington. Lade Eve makes her grand entrance, with a fluttering white ostrich fan, and then announces to Horace in an unassuming, modest, and soft-spoken manner: "Oh please, just call me Eve," rather than "Your Ladyship." According to Sir Alfred, she came over on a "cruiser" due to her well-connectedness.

Spurred on by an admiring coterie of males at the bar, she charms and dazzles everyone with the story of her mixups during her travels, her use of English slang words (the subway is "the tube") and her aristocratic pronunciation of "Connect-ticut." Stunned and shocked, Charles' jaw hangs open when he meets the captivating Lady Eve, immediately sensing how much she looks like a masquerading Jean Harrington: "Well, I mean to say, uh, haven't we met?" He insists that he has seen her before, on the S. S. Southern Queen between the US and South America, but she blithely replies that she has never been in South America, easily convincing all the others that he is mistaken. But she comes to his defense over his recollections of a previous woman who looked like her: "Don't let them tease you. You can tell me all about her."

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