Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lady for a Day (1933) - Classic Capra

Lady for a Day
"Lady for a Day" (1933).

"Lady for a Day" (1933), directed by Frank Capra, was a big hit for Poverty Row studio Columbia Pictures and its boss Harry Cohn. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (Columbia's first) and set Frank Capra on the illustrious course he would follow for the remainder of his career. Capra always had an eye for comedy, so almost all of his later pictures had that as an element along the way, even if it wasn't always the main theme (as in "It's A Wonderful Life").

Lady for a Day

This is a great Depression-era fairy tale that features the wonderful Warren William as Dave the Dude, a gambling mobster who relies for his luck on one Apple Annie, played by May Robson. Annie has pretended to be a society lady in letters to her daughter, raised in a Spanish Convent, but in reality is little more than a street bum (selling apples, of course, being a sign of being down on your luck in those days). With her daughter (Jean Parker), her fiancé and his father, a Spanish Count played marvelously by Walter Connolly, coming to visit, the ruse is about to be exposed. Dave the Dude, though, steps in to make things turn out right and thereby keep his lucky charm from doing something drastic to herself (the specter of suicide being a Capra trademark).

Lady for a Day

William commands the screen, as he was wont to do.  It is a shame he is not better remembered these days.  There are many wonderful supporting performances that provide an authentic feel for the times. Ned Sparks as "Happy" steals every scene he's in as Dave's acerbic business associate, and Guy Kibbee sets the bar high as Judge Henry G. Blake, a loquacious pool shark. Nat Pendleton also merits a mention as Dave's bumbling bodyguard, who manages to say the wrong thing at every opportunity. Robson is given a fairly thankless role, but she does a convincing (if at times annoying) job as a mother who would do anything to ensure her daughter's future.

"Lady for a Day" is highly recommended over Capra's own 1961 remake of the film, "Pocketful of Miracles." The latter film, despite being in color and with more recognizable actors, is distinctly inferior and is virtually a carbon copy of "Lady for a Day." In both films, as usual, Capra works some tacit commentary about class structures and the plight of the less fortunate, but more so the former. "Lady" captures the Depression spirit of goodness to the downtrodden and is a nice choice to view during the Holidays.


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