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Lady For a Day: A Modern Fairy Tale


slaytonf
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Do fairy tales happen? You bet they do. My favorite of Frank Capra's movies (notwithstanding all the Smiths and Does). I can't see it too often. A delightful, fanciful tale, chockfull of your favorite character actors. It starts with a marvelous, and elegantly constructed script by Robert Riskin, taken from Damon Runyon's popular stories of New York's street hustlers and low-lifes. He weaves a tale of an increasingly involved comedy of complications, in demonstration of the axiom that no good deed goes unpunished.

 

Warren William has top billing, and he does a fine job in his role, but he functions mostly as the effecting mechanism. It is really more of an ensemble picture, each character given their chance to shine. Guy Kibbee is in familiar territory playing the unctuous pool hustler. Of course, May Robeson is the emotional center of the movie. This is definitely her best role, and it's quite amazing to see her transition from a gin swilling street peddler to a refined, matronly figure--or rather not see it, as she manages the development so artlessly. Her exquisite agony over the future of her child is what makes possible the emotional punch the movie has. Of all the other characters, Ned Sparks stands out the most, this being one of his greatest roles, as well. He's a one man greek chorus, delivering a continual stream of acerbic comments on the incomprehensible actions of the others.

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I couldn't agree with you more that Lady For A Day is one of Capra's best. And you're right, it's the entire cast that's the real star, not just William and Robson, great as they are. I've always thought that this version is infinitely better than the 1961 remake, not just because William and Robson are much better cast for their roles than Ford and Davis, but more likely because the original was filmed so close to the written story that the lively Broadway scene that Runyon depicted was still based on living characters. Whereas the 1961 version seemed more like an historical costume piece than "Grabbed from the headlines", as this one was.

 

And yes, Ned Sparks is sublime. But isn't he always? I'd love to see him get a SUTS day at some point.

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It is a movie I always try and watch when it is on. The cast really makes the movie. I saw the Bette Davis version of the movie before Lady for a Day. Doesn't compare. Then when I saw Lady for a Day, I was hooked. It is a delightful cast of characters.

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I finally caught this. I'd never seen it before, although always wanted to. And I don't know why it took me so long to get to it, since TCM airs it fairly often (offhand I'd say several times a year...not that I'm complaining.)

 

It was just as enjoyable as I'd hoped it would be. I have to agree with slayton's original post, and all the other comments here. It was beautifully done, a sweet but not syrupy (or is that sugary?) "feel good" story that's fun and entertaining.

If you wanted to nitpick, I suppose you could question how the street roughened Apple Annie can so quickly and easily speak with such elegance - like a lady! In fact, I'll take this story over "My Fair Lady" when it comes to a pleasing transformation (ok, there are more differences than similarities...)

But anyway, who wants to nitpick? This is the kind of movie where you park your disbelief squarely at the door, and just sit back and enjoy the performances and touching story.

 

One thing I wondered about at first: wouldn't it have been interesting if the daughter had also turned out to be a fraud, if she'd hired or coaxed the "Count" and his son to pretend , just as Annie or rather, "the Dude" (long before Jeff Bridges' "Dude") had orchestrated Annie's deception on such a large and impressive scale.

 

I briefly pictured a scene where Louise and Annie confess to each other that they're (both !) not what they seem, but that they love one another as much if not more than before.

 

But of course that would have been an entirely different story, and *Lady for a Day* was perfect as it was.

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One thing I wondered about at first: wouldn't it have been interesting if the daughter had also turned out to be a fraud, if she'd hired or coaxed the "Count" and his son to pretend , just as Annie or rather, "the Dude" (long before Jeff Bridges' "Dude") had orchestrated Annie's deception on such a large and impressive scale.

 

That would have made for a great variant, and it got me to thinking about my favorite part in my favorite comedy, Bombshell, where Lee Tracy hires a bunch of bit actors to impersonate a family of snobbish society swells in an effort to con Jean Harlow into renouncing her society fantasies and returning to her movie career.

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MissW- Loved your post and all the posts for *Lady for A Day* The film has always been a favorite of mine, and I've seen it many times (have a tape) so that probably on your first viewing you may not have heard ot noticed that one of the street people, another old lady comments on how beautiful Annie looks she says that many years before that is what Annie looked like. So to answer your question, how did she change her speaking etc, it appears that Annie started out more well to do (remember we don't know who her daughter's real father is, for all we know he may have been well to do also.

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I first saw POCKET FULL OF MIRACLES some years back. And I always liked the story, even if many of the peripheral characters were acted out in huge cliches. By chance, even before TCM was formed, I caught LADY FOR A DAY on some cable premium channel, recognized the story right away, and was pleasantly surprised by how much better the whole thing was pulled off.

 

I still like both, but LADY is the first choice. However, Edward Everett Horton, in the remake, gives the butler a panache that's missing in the original.

 

Just sayin'...

 

Sepiatone

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I haven't seen *Pocketful of Miracles*, so I cannot compare. However, even though I like Glenn Ford, it's hard to imagine anyone being better in the role of "Dave the Dude" than Warren William.

To think that I'd never heard of this wonderful actor until a couple of years ago ! All that time I was missing such enjoyable performances. I now am a big fan of Mr. William's (although I'll always have trouble getting his name right...his is one of those reversible names that I always find a little confusing.)

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Good point, lavender...it is quite possible that Annie moved in a higher social bracket when she was young. Also quite possible that she fell from that high social standing when she became pregnant out of wedlock, which as we know, back then was completely unacceptable (even though of course it happened all the time.)

That's one of the interesting aspects of *Lady for a Day* : the fact that the filmmakers tell us almost nothing about Annie's past gives us scope to imagine her history ourselves.

Your surmising that she once was indeed a "lady" makes a lot of sense.

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Thanks Miss W ;) that line about how beautiful Annie looks and that's how she use to look is given to us by the old street woman, the only bit of information Capra gives the audience about Annie's past. The look Annie gives the Dude when he asks who her daughter's father was and she stays quiet, leads us to believe Annie gave birth out of wedlock. That may or may not be true, but yes I agree Capra gave the audience enough credit to let us imagine what her past was about. A few scenerio's could be imagined about Annie's history and her daughter's father... A beautiful little film with outstanding snappy dialogue and performances by everyone. This one is an Essential :)

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I always took it to be that the daughter was born out of wedlock. Her silence at the question has made me toy with the ideas that either she didn't know, which would give us one idea of Annie's past, or the Father was still somewhat prominent, and she gracefully didn't wish to foist any scandal on him, which gives us a DIFFERENT idea of who or what kind of person she was.

 

If nothing else, the movie shows through the actions of what many considered the "dregs" of society that even THEY are capable of an incomparable outpouring of love, respect and self sacrifice in order to help one of their own through a difficult situation. Even the "cream" of society sets their station aside in the name of humanity.

 

I still tear up a bit when the Mayor and Governor show up at the party.

 

Sepiatone

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Yes exactly Sepiatone.I've always thought a possible scenerio might be that the father was a prominent man, I think I mentioned that or posed that possibly as a question. My comment about *Lady For A Day* as a beautiful film, were for the same reasons you've cited.The whole film is indeed filled with love and deep friendship and self-sacrifice.

 

I love when Glenda Farrell's character tells Dave and his croonies that if their going to give up and walk out on Annie she would as well. She knew that Dave's conscience wouldn't let him do it and she pulled that off in such a clever way. She knows how really good Dave the Dude is, even when he verbally pushes her away from him romantically.

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