Within the first 10 minutes of Lady for a Day I detected a creeping sense of deja vu, and it wasn’t long after that I realized an earlier entry to the Potluck Film Festival had been a faithful remake of Frank Capra’s dewey-eyed comedy. Back during March’s Martial Arts-themed program, Tory Kluender had me watch Jackie Chan’s ambitious Miracles, which combined kung fu comedy with classic Hollywood gangster tropes, but also took inspiration from Capra — specifically this weepy farce about a grandiose act of community charity for a woman struggling in the margins of society.
May Robson stars in Lady for a Day as “Apple Annie,” a kindly but often drunk street vendor who is considered a good luck charm by gambler “Dave the Dude” (Warren William). When Annie learns that her daughter, who has been raised in a European convent thinking that her faraway mother is a pillar of high society, is headed to town with her fiancée and his nobleman father, Dave and his disreputable cronies stage an elaborate masquerade to pass off their favorite skid row matron as a wealthy woman of considerable prestige.
Based on a short story by Damon Runyon, Lady for a Day has a lively script that is full of chuckles, especially when Ned Sparks barks out unwarranted insults at anyone in his orbit, which is often. It's also nice to see Guy Kibbee in a meatier role — a pool-shark posing as Annie's fake society husband — after getting mere glimpses of his comedy chops in Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlights on Parade earlier this year. Maybe having seen Miracles mimic so many of its plot points earlier this year robbed Lady for a Day of some its novelty; while Capra's version is unequivocally more effective, its spotty plotting (Annie seems to be nearly forgotten for a long stretch in the middle) coupled with its aggressive ploys for easy sympathy keeps it amusing at best. Capra's work runs the gamut for me, at times sublimely balancing social observations with keen drama and finely wrought emotions, and at others spewing out an unforgivably sloppy mess of quirky sentiment; Lady for a Day avoids both extremes, but shows tempered signs of each inclination, just not as many of the bad ones.
Lady for a Day was brought to the Potluck Film Fest by Jandy Hardesty. She ranks it on her Flickchart at #130 / 3980 (97%), where it's her 2nd favorite of the 22 movies she's seen from Leonard Maltin’s 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. It ranked on my Flickchart at #994 (75%), making it #8 out of the 33 movies on my chart from Maltin's book about underappreciated films.