Bad Boys for Life
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Confusingly the biggest female star of the early 1930s was an elderly, overweight actress known as Marie Dressler who typically played kindly older ladies with shady backstories looking to please her estranged child or an innocent orphan. This was not a surprise during the Great Depression as a cuddly maternal figure who could appeal to families and not just teenage boys looking for buxom sex symbols or young girls looking for blushing heroines was appealing. In this film May Robson, a talented Australian character actress, essentially does a Dressler impersonation in a role adopted by many leading ladies during this time period until Bette Davis shattered the expectations of a female movie star in 1934. I find this sort of character charming as a supporting role but when placed at the center of the story it is difficult to care for a figure like this as they are monotonous in their total lovability. The film also shoulders the additional burden of being based upon Pygmalion and with an excellent adaptation of that play coming along just five years later it is hard not to compare the two.
The poor apple saleswoman "Apple Annie", May Robson, gave her daughter Louise, Jean Parker, up for adoption and the girl has been raised in a Spanish convent from a young age. Annie writes to her and pretends to be a member of the upper class leading to embarrassment when she realizes that her daughter will visit with her new husband Carlos, Barry Norton, and discover her lies. She is saved by her friend, the criminal Dave the Dude, Warren William, who agrees to have his girlfriend Missouri Martin, Glenda Farrell, dress her up to look like a wealthy woman. Annie enjoys her new life of luxury and pleases her daughter but Dave has to do some quick maneuvering to ensure that law enforcement don't catch him and Annie's ruse is not revealed.
The film doesn't work because it is not willing to poke fun at the aristocracy and ridicule the class system as Pygmalion does. If anything this film is an endorsement of the system and of using illegal means to get to the top as Annie is seen to be not only happier as an upper class woman but also a better person and Dave is never punished for his crimes. I do not subscribe to the Hays Code mentality under which all activity that is immoral should be punished on screen with the characters dying or repenting for their terrible mistakes but the film's heart did not seem to be in the right place. I could support a woman wanting to impress the daughter she gave up due to financial limitations but in this film it seems as though the only reason that Louise likes her mother is that she is rich. In a film like this the mother would usually admit that she had been lying, the daughter would feel betrayed and then the two would reconcile with the daughter stating that she loved her mother for her personality more than her riches or social status. While that is a predictable ending there is a reason that it has been used so many times as it upholds the value of being a generally decent person and using your personality and charm to win a person over instead of money and gifts.
Robson's performance also leaves a lot to be desired as she does not have the odd magnetism that Dressler possessed and without those wicked eyes she is pleasant but almost entirely unmemorable. She is more compelling in the second half of the film as the upper class woman as while she gives us no sense of her character's transition from lonely woman suffering due to poverty to incredibly wealthy socialite she seems to be having a bit of fun in the second half and is able to let go of the stiff, mannered style she employs as a lower class woman. The supporting cast steal a few scenes as Farrell is enjoyable as a gangster's moll with a heart of gold and Guy Kibbee is a hoot as Dave's right hand man.
Allegedly Frank Capra was so confident that he had won Best Director that he got up to accept the award at the mention of the name "Frank" without waiting for the presenter to utter his surname. It turned out that the award would instead go to Frank Lloyd for Cavalcade (1933) but it does mystify that Capra could be so proud of this film when he would go on to do so much better.
A great rags to riches tale that is well cast and finds you rooting for the heroine, a brilliantly acted role.
Lady for a Day has many great plot points and memorable moments throughout its runtime, but as a whole it just doesn't click as well as it should have. May Robson delivered one of the finest performances of this year and her character's great, but the other characters aren't all that interesting. It's a solid early effort from Frank Capra with a killer premise, but the execution wasn't the greatest or the funniest leading to one of his lesser achievements.
I loved this movie. It was beautiful to see how touched she was when everyone pulled together to help her.
A Frank Capra movie that will leave you with a smile on your face.
even though Capra remade this pic with Bette Davis i still prefer this first version
An energetic and funny early Capra film about a woman who gets her friends to help her pretend she's rich so she can impress her daughter, returning from Spain where she had spent her life and where she met her fiancee, a Count. Expertly directed, though some of the actors are a bit overly theatrical, and not dated in many ways, "Lady for a Day" is a worthwhile watch for fans of comedies and excellent acting (May Robson, in the lead role, is the only 30s actor I've seen so far that not only deserved her Oscar nomination in her day, but would be deserving in modern times as well). The ending is a surprise, too, going in the direction we wouldn't expect.
'Ask them if they believe in fairy tales'... Capra's Cinderella Story is a sweet Old-fashioned Fantasy--Things aren't always what they seem. A person may appear to be rich, happy, and enjoying life, when in fact they are poorer than dirt, have not smiled in days, and are just miserable everyday. Apple Annie was a woman who didn't live in the best of circumstances but she made the best of what she had... Enough tears around here to float a battleship!!
never underestimate a Frank Capra's movie
A cute little pick me up for those suffering through the Depression, Lady for a Day is harmless Capra is not memorable Capra. Feel goodiness without too much depth.