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Lady for a Day Blu-ray Review

Lady for a Day (1933) movie poster Lady for a Day

Theatrical Release: September 13, 1933 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Frank Capra / Writers: Robert Riskin (screenplay & dialogue), Damon Runyon (story)

Cast: Warren William (Dave the Dude), May Robson (Apple Annie/Mrs. E. Worthington Manville), Guy Kibbee (Judge Henry G. Blake/Mr. E. Worthington Manville), Glenda Farrell (Missouri Martin), Ned Sparks (Happy Mcguire), Walter Connolly (Count Alfonso Romero), Jean Parker (Louise), Nat Pendleton (Shakespeare), Barry Norton (Carlos), Halliwell Hobbes (Butler), Hobart Bosworth (Governor), Robert Emmett O'Connor (Inspector)

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Few films can claim anywhere near the success and impact of Frank Capra's It Happened One Night. The 1934 screwball comedy swept five of the biggest categories at the Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Lead Actor, and Lead Actress, a feat only twice achieved in the eighty years since.
It also made a star out of Clark Gable, supposedly pushed men's undershirts out of style, and, most significantly, defined the romantic comedy, establishing a mold still widely in use though never to such fine effect. Capra directed and produced movies for another thirty years after that, growing somewhat more serious and dramatic in his tastes on such celebrated classics as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life. Capra became something of a fixture at the Academy Awards, winning two additional Best Director statuettes from another four nominations and helming one subsequent Best Picture winner from five nominees.

The Academy first recognized the filmmaker a year before It Happened One Night, for 1933's Lady for a Day. This comedy film earned four Oscar nominations, for Picture, Director, Lead Actress, and Adapted Screenplay and though it came up empty in all categories, it established Capra, steadily employed since the Silent Era, as a filmmaker to watch.

Lady is adapted by Capra's frequent scribe Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night, You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) from a 1929 Cosmopolitan short story by author and reporter Damon Runyon titled "Madame La Gimp." Offering a twist on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, a play that inspired such widely seen films as My Fair Lady and She's All That, the film opens with Apple Annie (May Robson), an unkempt, alcoholic older woman selling apples in a New York City alleyway. Like the rough panhandlers with whom she associates, Apple Annie is hassled by the police. She does have a supportive customer, however, in "Dave the Dude" (Warren William), a mobster who considers her good luck and tips big when buying from her.

In Frank Capra's "Lady for a Day", ragged old street vendor Apple Annie (May Robson)... ...is transformed into wealthy socialite Mrs. E. Worthington Manville (still May Robson), with help from her friends.

For a long time, Annie has been communicating via letter with Louise (Jean Parker), her daughter raised in a Spanish convent. Annie has been overstating her status in America, using the upscale Marberry Hotel as her return address and describing something altogether different from her lowly existence in fruit vending. Louise reveals that she is engaged and that her fiancι's father, a count, insists on meeting Louise's mother before they are married. Annie passes out in terror, but at some prompting by the street folk, Dave the Dude agrees to help Annie out of her jam.

The Dude gets a bunch of ladies and one dandy to give the old woman a makeover. Goodbye, Apple Annie. Hello, Mrs. E. Worthington Manville! The Dude also arranges to use the spacious apartment of an out of town associate. His men get articulate pool hall hustler "Judge" Blake (Guy Kibbee) to pose as the lady's husband. This charade should all be over in the course of one weekend. But the act becomes more challenging, when Count Romero (Walter Connolly), Louise, and Carlos (Barry Norton) are invited to a reception. Suddenly, all the lowlifes Duke knows have to be dressed up, given a character, and rehearsed on how to communicate in a dignified manner.

Complicating matters even further is the issue of three missing social reporters, whom The Dude's crew has abducted to prevent the truth from being dug up. Determined to locate the missing journalists, the police quickly zero in on the Dude, jeopardizing the big elaborate ruse of a reception.

Dave the Dude (Warren William, right) abides, just not by the law, as Happy McGuire (Ned Sparks) can attest. "Judge" Blake/Mr. E. Worthington Manville (Guy Kibbee) can't resist a little billiards hustling of visiting dignitary Count Alfonso Romero (Walter Connolly).

Capra's films have aged better than the majority of his contemporaries and that's because they deal with issues that never go out of style, like family and class differences.
The films rely on human characters, who typically exhibit decency. That's true of this film's cast, even if it is populated by hoods and derelicts from society's underbelly. There's inherent good to Apple Annie, whose mountain of deception began as a molehill of a white lie. She has our full sympathy, as does The Dude and his gang even as they take highly questionable measures to win the old maid a tidy escape from her predicament.

People may not punctuate sentences with "see" or earn their living as pool hustlers these days, but the humor and humanity of Lady for a Day are far from out of date. This 81-year-old comedy retains ample appeal. The story feels a tad overlong, even at just 96 minutes. And it is strange for Apple Annie, introduced as lead, to disappear for a substantial chunk of the film, as our focus shifts to The Dude and his fellow organizers of this elaborate charade. Give it some thought and the heartwarming happy ending seems fairly ludicrous and unlikely to stand. Nonetheless, Capra's films may not have been terribly realistic, but they have a lot to say about humanity and manage to entertain us thoroughly saying it.

Lady for a Day has been remade several times, most significantly by Capra himself in 1961's A Pocketful of Miracles starring Glenn Ford and Bette Davis. The story also became the basis for the 1989 Jackie Chan Hong Kong action vehicle Ji Ji (Miracles).

The original Lady for a Day came to Blu-ray a couple of years back as a B2MP release of Inception Media Group, two small companies you probably haven't heard of. Though doubtfully easy to find in stores, this release is above and beyond what you might expect for an unfamiliar studio distributing an old and not terribly well-known film. Apparently, this release even reinserts 4½ minutes of footage that was for some reason cut from previous DVD releases.

Last Love Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
LPCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: None
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($14.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


Presented in 1.33:1 approximating its original Academy Ratio, Lady for a Day looks good on Blu-ray. Not jaw-dropping, Criterion Collection-worthy excellent, but still good, especially for a film that could well be older than your oldest living relative. The Blu-ray's picture is somewhat soft, a tad grainy, and features some minor imperfections throughout (the occasional line, scratch, or hair), but it is overall quite pleasing. You notice the level of detail afforded by 1080p and that very little stands in the way of seeing this film as it might have looked on opening day 80 years ago.

The uncompressed LPCM 2.0 monaural soundtrack cannot hide its age. Dialogue isn't always the clearest, which makes the complete lack of subtitles a bummer. But for the most part, if you don't have any hearing problems, you shouldn't have any trouble hearing and enjoying this film.

Frank Capra Jr. honors his father's film in this introduction and an audio commentary. This is the most extreme example of how the restoration cleaned up the film from its degraded state.


B2MP equips Lady for a Day with the same two bonus features of the film's 2001 Image Entertainment DVD release. They are an introduction and audio commentary by Frank Capra Jr., the director's son.
The on-camera introduction (0:57, HD) talks about the film's Academy Award nominations.

The commentary is screen-specific, allowing Capra to speak about his father's personal and professional lives at length. He knows and shares the specifics of production, from the uphill casting (Capra had to settle for actors far below his top choices, which included James Cagney) to the use of black and white. The track is somewhat nostalgic for the old days. We hear about Columbia Pictures being an upstart studio, the importance of the Oscars (which his father referred to as the Holy Grail) and the family's experiences with the ceremonies, and the director's interest in the common man. Capra Jr. is prompted by an unidentified man's barely audible, rarely discernible questions. Despite some lulls during the second half of the film and the use of tangential topics to fill the air (like It's a Wonderful Life's public domain status and Capra trying to appease Meet John Doe viewers), there is real value to this commentary, one of three Capra Jr. recorded prior to his 2007 death.

To these turn-of-the-millennium reflections, B2MP's Blu-ray adds a couple of things.

"Restoration Before and After" (4:40, HD) is a split-screen comparison, using assorted clips from throughout the film to illustrate how much worse and jumpier the film could look if it had not undergone the winning remastering it had.

Warren William and director Frank Capra prepare to bite apples in the presence of Apple Annie (May Robson) in this behind-the-scenes photo gallery still. Apple Annie gets happy with a bottle of booze on the Lady for a Day Blu-ray menu.

Finally, a 36-still HD photo gallery lets you page through film,
publicity and behind-the-scenes stills.

The scored menu plays blue-tinted clips matted to fill the 16:9 screen. Unfortunately, the region-free Blu-ray neither supports bookmarks, nor resumes unfinished playback.

The final thing included here is a six-page booklet inside the keepcase. Three of those pages offer an informative illustrated essay by critic and historian Scott Eyman. The highfalutin article provides welcome additional context and perspective for the film and its cast.

Dave the Dude (Warren William), Apple Annie (May Robson), and Judge Blake (Guy Kibbee) are at the dock and looking spiffy to greet Annie's illegitimate daughter and her company.


Lady for a Day, Frank Capra's first Best Picture Oscar nominee, doesn't have the cachet and reputation of the director's most celebrated works, but this class comedy remains highly enjoyable and human in the tradition of his other triumphs. B2MP treats this somewhat forgotten classic to a surprisingly strong Blu-ray that is easy to recommend for fans of Hollywood's Golden Age and of Capra's enduring, appealing cinema.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Frank Capra: It's a Wonderful Life | New: Man Hunt • Love Streams
1930s on Blu-ray: Cavalcade • The Call of the Wild • The 39 Steps • The Women • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Born Yesterday • The Apartment • Ace in the Hole • The Big Lebowski

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Reviewed September 21, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1933 Columbia Pictures Corporation and 2012 Inception Media Group, B2MP.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.