Lady for a Day (1933)


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 the daughter announces that she’s coming to NY 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:

Sentiment is always a hard sell. You yell and people say to you, “I get it, man.” You cry and people suddenly feel awkward, “what do I do now?” That, in a nutshell, is what I’ve observed. So, 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 two decades. Lady for a Day marked the beginning of what will later be described as “Capracorn” — 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 heavily altered Runyon’s tale thus creating a slew of situations that give you pause — the film demands viewers to ignore morally questionable elements. For example, Dude is a notorious criminal who makes his money in a shady manner. The film also suggests that a white lie is better than the truth. More important, the idea of government officials overlooking criminal activities in order to help a lying street person is beyond ridiculous.

But then something happened to me. My brain was telling me that the movie made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but my heart decided to override the brain and I slowly got caught up in the film’s fanciful spirit. A tear rolled down my cheek and I simply forgot all about how ridiculous the film really is — Capra does a great job manipulating the viewer (well, the manipulation worked with me!).

The acting in the movie is pretty great. May Robson’s Apple Annie is impossible to resist. She’s probably too old for the role, but it really doesn’t matter because she is wonderful. Annie might be a lying boozer, but she is 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 of fan of Warren William, but he’s terrific as Dude — this is probably his best performance.

Glenda Farrell (Bureau of Missing Persons) plays Dude’s girlfriend, Missouri Martin, Walter Connolly (Nothing Sacred) is Count Romero, and Guy Kibbee (Little Lord Fauntleroy) is Judge Blake. Ned Sparks (42nd Street), who plays Dude’s main henchman, Happy McGuire, has the funniest lines in the film. His 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 TownMr. 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! 😉 . Remade in 1961. B&W, 96 minutes, Not Rated.


2 responses to “Lady for a Day (1933)

  1. Has been a while since I have seen this one— though I did catch Capra’s 1961 remake with Bette Davis and enjoyed it. I tend to enjoy the sentimentality of the Damon Runyon tales, including Guys and Dolls and a little known Lucille Ball/ Henry Fonda film I recently saw called The Big Street.
    Look forward to seeing this 1933 version with its amazing cast.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I liked Guys and Dolls, and Big Street (I didn’t know it was a Runyon tale). I also liked Runyon’s Little Miss Marker, have you seen it? There are three versions, 1934, 1949 and 1980, all three movies are pretty good.


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