The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve

I must confess that The Lady Eve is one of my favourite movies, and it’s not just because the romantic male lead played by Henry Fonda is a herpetologist. (Two words: Eugene Pallette.) It’s a wonderful and cinematically significant romantic comedy by Preston Sturges. You really should see it.

In the opening scene, Charles Pike and his bodyguard Muggsy are leaving the Amazon with “Emma”, a “rare type of Brazilian glass snake” that mysteriously can be fed “just a couple of flies, a sip of milk and perhaps a pigeon’s egg on Sundays.” (An impossible snake diet.) Emma’s Latin name is given as Columbrina marzditzia, but Emma is in fact played by a Western Longnose Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei lecontei). Rarely kept in captivity nowadays, but quite a gentle species, and one readily found in southern California.

Later, once Pike has returned home, he asks his butler whether he’s seen a Crotalus colubrinus. (“With pink spots,” Muggsy adds.) “I rejoice to say that I have not, sir,” the butler replies, walking away — with what appears to be a Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) wrapped around his ankle. Crotalus colubrinus is not only imaginary, it’s an oxymoron if you know your Linnaean binomials.

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