Lady for a Day (1933)

“It’s for Apple Annie, see? She’s in a tough spot, and it’s up to us to give her a break.”

Synopsis:
When a destitute apple vendor (May Robson) learns that her grown daughter (Jean Parker) will be arriving from Spain with her noble fiance (Barry Norton) and his father (Walter Connelly), she enlists the help of a superstitious but grateful gangster (Warren William) and his moll (Glenda Farrell) in putting on an elaborate charade to present herself as a “lady”, including finding a man (Guy Kibbee) to pose as her husband.

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Review:
Frank Capra’s first adaptation of Damon Runyan’s short story “Madame La Gimp” — remade as A Pocketful of Miracles in 1961 — earned him a Best Director and Best Picture nomination, though he didn’t win until the following year for It Happened One Night. Lady for a Day remains a touching tale of collective support for a down-and-out friend with a complicated request — and the fact that the level of deception necessary to sustain Parker’s belief in her mother’s status would never last (Robson is only made a “lady” for a day) is part of the story’s fairy-tale charm. It’s impossible not to compare this with Pocketful of Miracles, which pales in comparison despite its vibrant Technicolor hues: Robson embodies Apple Annie and her transformation in a much more convincing and pathos-driven fashion than Bette Davis, and it’s nice to see William and Farrell’s characters mutually supportive of Annie (rather than quibbling and taking up screen time, as Glenn Ford and Hope Lange do in the remake). Joseph Walker’s cinematography bathes the entire movie with an appropriately melancholy yet magical atmosphere. This early Capra flick is worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • May Robson as Apple Annie
  • Fine supporting performances
  • Joseph Walker’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable Oscar-nominated classic. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Lady for a Day (1933)”

  1. In agreement with the accurate assessment above – a once-must for its place in cinema history, and esp. for Robson’s performance and the fine support she gets from the main players around her.

    This is a charming ‘fairy tale’ indeed, served up with straightforward simplicity.

    It’s esp. poignant as it reaches its conclusion. When Robson receives the ultimate surprise – just as she’s about to give up hope – the look on her face and the way she composes herself go right to the viewer’s heart (and probably throat, for being choked-up).

    A very satisfying piece of entertainment.

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