Lady for a Day Movie Review
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: May Robson, Warren William, Guy Kibbee, Glenda Farrell, Ned Sparks, Jean Parker, Barry Norton, Walter Connolly, Nat Pendleton
Oscar Wins: No wins.
Other Nominations: Best Actress (May Robson), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture
Sooner or later, I think we all get a little touch of that fairy tale magic. A happily ever after, someone who rescues you from misery, or maybe just a day where everything goes just how you planned. It can happen at 16, 35 or, in the case of Apple Annie, well into your golden years.
In Lady for a Day, Apple Annie (May Robson) spends her days selling apples in Times Square. Her daughter, Louise (Jean Parker) has been raised in a Spanish convent since she was an infant and has only communicated with her mother via ol’ fashioned letters sent back and forth.
Over the course of Louise’s life, Annie has put up the façade that she is one of New York’s wealthiest socialites, living at the Hotel Marberry and hosting elegant dinner parties on the reg. However, Annie soon discovers her charade is in danger of being uncovered when she learns that her daughter will be traveling to New York to visit her, along with her new fiancé and her soon-to-be father-in-law, Count Romero.
In a beautiful gesture only Frank Capra could pull off, Annie’s loyal apple-buying patrons, including the infamous gangster Dave the Dude (this is the best gangster name ever and I will fight anyone who says otherwise), band together to make Annie “lady for a day”, providing her an elegant apartment, a lavish makeover, a bejeweled wardrobe, even a doting husband. They go so far as to arrange a soiree filled with New York’s elite, including the mayor himself.
Does Annie succeed in deceiving her daughter? Of course she does. I mean, IT’S FRANK CAPRA. Louise and her fiancé are positively overcome with joy upon meeting Annie and witnessing her elegant lifestyle. With the help of Dave the Dude and his band of misfits, Annie is able to maintain her cover until Louise and her new family board the ship back to Spain…and they all lived happily ever after, right?
Well, maybe. Lady for a Day was the first in a series of Capra films to follow this down-on-his-luck-character-is-helped-by-society-and-everything’s-okay format (other films like You Can’t Take it With You and It’s a Wonderful Life would follow this formula and would help define Capra as a feel-good director). But here’s the rub – like any good fairy tale, Lady for a Day completely ignores everything that comes after Louise leaves New York. Does Annie just go back to selling apples as if nothing happened? Does she fall into a state of depression after leaving her life of luxury behind? Does she eventually break down and come clean with her daughter?
In the long run, it doesn’t matter. That’s not what fairy tales are all about. Like all the Cinderella stories that came before it and would come after it, Lady for a Day gives us more of a reason to believe in that "happily ever after" ending.