Monday, February 13, 2023

Frank Capra’s “Lady for a Day”

Lady for a Day (1933) is an American pre-Code comedy-drama directed by Frank Capra and starring Warren William, May Robson, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, Walter Connolly, Glenda Farrell, and Jean Parker. The screenplay was written by frequent Capra collaborator, Robert Riskin, based on Madame La Gimp by Damon Runyon. The cinematography was by Joseph Walker.

The plot centers on Apple Annie (Robson), an old woman who sells fruit in New York City. She has a daughter named Louise (Parker) who has been raised in a Spanish convent since she was a baby. Louise has been led to believe that her mother is a rich society matron by the name of Mrs. E. Worthington Manville who lives in the Hotel Marberry. Annie’s secret is about to be discovered when she learns that her daughter is sailing to New York with her fiancé Carlos (Barry Norton) and his father, Count Romero (Connolly).

One of Annie’s many customers, Dave the Dude (William), a gangster and gambler who believes her apples bring him good luck helps Annie keep up the charade. The Dude’s girlfriend and nightclub owner Missouri Martin (Farrell) even helps Annie turn from a dirty street peddler to an elegant society matron.

But will all this be enough to fool her daughter, her fiancé, and her fiancé’s father?

Warren William (1894 – 1948) was a star on Broadway and in Hollywood. The Village Voice dubbed him “The King of Pre-Code.” William was a popular leading man during the early 1930s. He starred in Three on a Match (1932), Golddiggers of 1933, and Cleopatra (1934) where he played Julius Caesar opposite Claudette Colbert in the title role. He would play her love interest that same year opposite Colbert again in the original version of Imitation of Life. William starred in several film series, including Perry Mason, The Lone Wolf, and Philo Vance. He starred opposite Mae West in Go West Young Man (1936) and The Wolf Man (1941).

May Robson (1858 – 1942) was an Australian-born American actress. She was a major stage actress during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She is best remembered for the films she appeared in during the 1930s when she was in her 70s. Some of her movies from this period include, Dinner at Eight (1933), Dancing Lady (1933), Lady by Choice (1934), Anna Karenina (1935), A Star is Born (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Four Daughters (1938). She was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Lady for a Day (1933).

Jean Parker and May Robson

Lady for a Day trivia

  • Capra employed a number of beggars from downtown Los Angeles in small roles.
  • This was Capra’s first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
  • The film premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
  • Columbia Pictures had no stars under long-term contracts so most of the film’s players were on loan from Warner Brothers.
  • Capra wanted Robert Montgomery to play Dave the Dude and Marie Dressler to play Apple Annie, but M-G-M wouldn’t loan them out. Capra tried to get James Cagney and William Powell too, but no luck.
  • This was the first film released by Columbia Pictures to be nominated for Best Picture.

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

To join the discussion on February 20, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you'll receive an invitation with a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions

  1. This film was made pre-Code, before the Production Code did you notice anything that caught your attention, something that you wouldn't see in a film during the Production Code?
  2. What did you think of May Robson's performance? Was it worthy of an Academy Award nomination?
  3. What about Warren William? Would the film have been better with Robert Montgomery, James Cagney, or William Powell as Dave the Dude?
  4. Frank Capra remade this film as Pocket Full of Miracles (1961) starring Glenn Ford as Dave the Dude and Bette Davis as Apple Annie. If you saw the latter, which did you think was the better version?
  5. The film is filled with great character actors; did you have a favorite?
  6. This was an early Capra success. Does this film remind you of other Capra films?

Publicity photo featuring the major cast

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