All About “Eve”

“It’s Losey’s film maudit,” explained David Wingrove to a skeptic after the film fest screening of EVE (1962). “It’ll have to get in line!” I said. If I’d set it within an hour of David’s statement this might have qualified as repartee. Anyhow, I do think the film is probably more highly regarded than BOOM and SECRET CEREMONY, though both of those have devoted sexy weird admirers.

“A cheap, tawdry melodrama,” is how Jeanne Moreau described the producers’ cut, in which the notorious Hakim Brothers sheared about an hour off the film’s running time. Given that the film is adapted from a James Hadley Chase novel, I bet that’s exactly what they were hoping for. Given that the piece is replete with adultery, fraud, lavish parties, gambling, the movie biz, suicide, and Jeanne Moreau savaging Stanley Baker with a whip, if it attains the status of cheap, tawdry and melodramatic, shouldn’t we regard that as a sign of success?

“Not conceited, just accurate,” is how Stanley Baker assesses his high opinion of his ability to please women. It’s such a dazzling display of sexual arrogance that, coupled with his frequent appearances in a dinner jacket, I found myself imagining Baker as James Bond. Sex, crime, exotic locations, sadism, drinking and gambling, it’s all there. EVE’s wild Michel Legrand jazz score is even more dynamic than the Bond theme. With the scenes in Venice, the specific Bond story would be CASINO ROYALE, the one where 007 is bested by a woman.

“All women, six to sixty,”he remarks later, explaining to his rich wife-to-be (the beautiful Lisi) his tendency to stray. That seems like the kind of statement most of us would have to follow with “I mean, er, that didn’t come out right, uh…” but Baker lets it stand. It’s a movie that boldly jettisons conventional notions of audience sympathy — Baker and Moreau are both fascinating monsters, and while Lisi is theoretically sympathetic, there isn’t enough of her in the film for that to matter and anyway her character pales next to the arrogant yet insecure Baker and the heartless Moreau.

When James Villiers’ agent-turned-wife wonders about only getting ten per cent of a man, he retorts happily, “That’s all there is.” Certainly her gaydar must be faulty for her to have stumbled into such a love match. Everything that comes out of the great Villiers’ mouth in this film is pure gold. He’s the comedy relief amid the angst and humiliation, the one character who is never fazed by anything. But let’s get this straight — Stanley Baker has written a book about a lusty Welsh coal miner? And they got JAMES VILLIERS to write the screenplay? With a part for VIRNA LISI? I’m having trouble picturing the resulting movie, which wisely the filmmakers withhold from us. Although I guess the result might have looked a little like EVE.

“I wonder if they’ll bump into Marcello and Anita from LA DOLCE VITA,” whispered David, as Stanley and Jeanne roamed Rome after dark. Later, Stan rides a funeral barge on the Venetian Grand Canal and I wondered if he’d pass Julie Christie going the other way. Perhaps because the cities are so ancient, the film seems unusually haunted by other movies, past and present. Also by guest stars — Peggy Guggenheim, Vittorio De Sica and Losey himself waft by.

“Moreau at her most forcefully, ferally seductive — her frequent disrobings, dramatic departures and solitary sulks, all appropriately backed by a repeated Billie Holliday motif,” says Edinburgh Film Fest director Hannah McGill in the programme, and it’s true. We can tell she’s fickle because she has one cat for her Rome apartment and another in Venice. Shocking. Some — but certainly not all — of La Moreau’s unmotivated cruelty may be down to the film being so hacked about. This “definitive restoration” is still missing some scenes described by Losey, so it’s actually NOBODY’S preferred cut, just the longest version anybody’s been able to assemble, with occasional burnt-in subtitles in Swedish or Finnish attesting to the print’s scattered origins.

“God made Adam from a woman’s rib,” sings Tony Middleton on the soundtrack, lyrics written by Losey with screenwriter Evan Jones (MODESTY BLAISE). This may just be Losey’s jazziest movie of all, what with the incessant Billie Holliday refrain (the people in this film may be rich, but they apparently only own the same two records each). I’m starting to wonder if a sloey movie can truly EXIST without jazz. It certainly seems like a factor whose importance has been underrated in his work.

“It’s a failed art movie,” says John Waters of BOOM, and when an art movie fails, it fails by failing to be art. Is EVE art? Is this shot art? —

It’s beautiful, it made me gasp and grin, and it’s also rather crude and vulgar, particularly in a film named after the lady in the Masaccio on the left. Can art be lurid and overripe? Can a cheap, tawdry melodrama be art? I sure hope so.

EVE was screened in Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Jeanne Moreau retrospective.

19 Responses to “All About “Eve””

  1. Cheap, tawdy, art. In other words, purest James Hadley Chase. Ideally double-featured with Chereau’s Flesh of the Orchid

    And speaking of Patrice, it was he who discovered the true depths of Virna Lisi — casting her as Catherine DeMedici in Queen Margot. I’ve no doubt he’s an Eve fan.

    AND FURTHERMORE: In terms of music scoring, Jeanne Moreau is Billie Holiday and Stanley Baker is Miles Davis.

    Michel Legrand splits the difference.

  2. Well put!

    Lisi steals the show in La Reine Margot. I must see more of her films.

  3. Most of her credits are Italian, though she graced U.S. shored briefly in the sixties, most strikingly in How To Murder You Wife, a George Axelrod script directed by Richard Quine with great style.

    She also appears to great effect in a rather stylish Bolognini Arabella (1967)

  4. I’m planning to get deeper into Quine, having enjoyed Bell Book and Candle (apart from the ending — we don’t want Kim to give up her witchcraft!) I have The Notorious Landlady lined up, and How to Murder your Wife is always turning up so I’ll grab that too.

  5. Quine was a very stylish director at a very un-stylish studio — Columbia. He started out as a child actor (check him out as Barrymore’s snobbish stepson in Wyler’s amazing Counselor-at-law.) His pocket musical version of My Sister Elileen is right up there with Don Weis’ I Love Melvin as a late studio era gem.

  6. Never did see “How To Murder Your Wife,” apart from the occasional snippet on television. I have, however, run into its theme-song while perusing the fake-books … and it strikes me as being on the short-list of creepy, supposedly “funny” songs taken from ’60s comedies. My other candidate: Bacharach’s theme-song from “Promise Her Anything.”

    Back in the day, I used to run into Quine’s “Hotel” a lot. Wonder how it looks these days …

  7. Just looking at his credits…my, that career didn’t end too well, did it? Oddly, I was just thinking of The Prisoner of Zenda (Peter Sellers version) recently without realising he perpetrated it. Sex and the Single Girl ain’t too hot either, as I recall. very “square”. But there’s an undeniable chic sheen to some of his stuff that makes me tempted to look at more.

  8. I’ve always had the impression that Eve was one of the most highly regarded Losey films, at least by his fans.

    When Quine is good, he is very good. I hear he had personal problems, and his career probably reflects that. I love the B thriller Drive a Crooked Road and the color melodrama Strangers When We Meet.

  9. I guess Losey fans, like Kubrick fans, have a slightly different take than people who just like certain Losey and Kubrick films. So Eve and Barry Lyndon appeal to the fans but less so to the others, maybe.

    I’ll watch out for those Quines. I have Pushover and Notorious Landlady lined up.

  10. chainedandperfumed Says:

    I’m with you on the Baker as Bond comparison–to the extent that I always see Baker (except in Accident) as a poor man’s Sean Connery.

  11. That’s a strange attitude to me, since Baker came first — he’s certainly not imitating Connery. Baker really put across the idea of the macho working-class leading man, and then Connery came along being less of an actor but a fair bit more handsome.

  12. chainedandperfumed Says:

    Ah, but I was aware of Connery ages before I was Baker. Since seeing him in Eve, I can’t get the idea of him in the tuxedo out of my mind whenever I encounter him in (most) other things.

  13. I think most of us saw Connery first, these days. Have you seen Hell Drivers, which has Baker AND Connery? And McGoohan, and many more…

  14. chainedandperfumed Says:

    No but that sounds interesting. I’ll have to see if I can check it out.

  15. It’s like a testosterone maelstrom. Peggy Cummings serves as a kind of focus/target.

  16. “For one ghastly moment, darling, I thought you were going to announce OUR wedding.”

    Is stored in my cell phone and oft used as a ring tone/alarm tone!

  17. That’d get you out of bed alright.

  18. I’d really love to see this version of Eve as I enormously admire the 119 minute Kino version even with its horrendous picture quality and burnt in subtitles, is there any info on whether it will be given any US screenings and ideally a home release?

  19. I haven’t heard anything, and there seems little heat around Losey’s career and reputation at present. I’d love Criterion to take him up.

    I would suggest purchasing the French DVD, which you ought to be able to view on your computer (if it’s a PC) or blu-ray player without difficulty.

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