A New York City street vendor, “Apple” Annie (May Robson, Bringing Up Baby) has been pretending to be a high society woman to her daughter, who has lived in Spain most of her life. When her daughter announces that she’s coming to New York with her wealthy fiance, Annie turns to gangster Dave “The Dude” (Warren William, The Dark Horse) for help. Dave has only days to transform haggish Annie into a lady.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“The idea is to make her look like a lady.”
Sentiment is always a hard sell. For whatever reason, the public tends to be more accepting of cynicism. With that in mind, what do you do with a filmmaker who spent most of his career exploring different types of sentiments? Director Frank Capra sold sugar in crates for nearly three decades. Lady for a Day is pure “Capracorn,” but it’s an enjoyable movie if you’re in the right state of mind.
Lady for a Day is based on Damon Runyon’s 1929 short story Madame La Gimp. In Runyon’s satirical story, Apple Annie is a Spanish ex-dancer who lost her career after breaking her leg. There are no apples, there are no whimsical twists, there are no tearful moments. The tale is sardonically narrated by one of Dude’s henchmen.
Director Capra and writer Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) heavily altered Runyon’s sardonic tale, thus creating a slew of situations that gave me pause. The film demands viewers ignore logic and common sense. For example, Lady for a Day suggests that a lie is better than the truth. More problematic is how the movie condones the criminal activity of underworld figures.
But then something happened to me. My brain was telling me that the movie didn’t make much sense, but my heart decided to override the brain and I slowly got caught up in the film’s whimsical spirit. A tear rolled down my cheek and I simply forgot all about how the plot holes and all this that didn’t sit well with me — the skillful Capra does a fantastic job manipulating the viewer (well, the manipulation worked with me!).
It helps that the acting in the movie is pretty great. May Robson’s sensational performance was impossible to resist. Robson is probably too old for the role of “Apple Annie,” but it really doesn’t matter because she is absolutely wonderful. “Apple Annie” might be a haggish, lying boozer, but she is good-hearted and pathetically sad, and Robson conveys quite well the character’s complex emotions.
Although Lady for a Day is built around Robson’s brilliant performance, the rest of the cast is pretty awesome too. I’ve never been a big fan of Warren William, but he’s terrific as gangster-with-heart-of-gold Dude — this is probably his best performance.
Glenda Farrell (Bureau of Missing Persons) steals a few scenes as Dude’s sassy but vulgar girlfriend. Walter Connolly (Nothing Sacred) plays Count Romero and Guy Kibbee (Little Lord Fauntleroy) plays Judge Blake. Delightful character actor Ned Sparks (42nd Street), who plays Dude’s main henchman, Happy McGuire, has the funniest lines in the film. Happy’s crankiness and cynical remarks cut through some of the sweetness.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
I’m what you’d call a pragmatic-idealist, so I tend to dig Capra and his unique brand of idealism. Lady for a Day isn’t as good as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It’s a Wonderful Life, but it’s a warm, funny film that celebrates the human spirit in an entertaining fashion — grinches and grouches, stay away! A perfect movie to watch over the Holidays. Remade in 1961. B&W, 96 minutes, Not Rated.