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Sunday, July 21, 2013

LADY FOR A NIGHT (1942)

Think of it as an experiment in alternate casting. John Wayne in as Rhett Butler; Joan Blondell as that noble madame Belle Watling; Hattie Noel plays Mammy; Ray Middleton’s a sort of soused Ashley Wilkes; and Blanche Yurka (the famous Madame De Farge from A TALE OF TWO CITIES/’35) takes on . . . Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers? Well, when you mix-and-match GONE WITH THE WIND/’39 with REBECCA/’40, somebody’s got to play the house villain. Blondell is a social climbing Riverboat Queen who uses her profits to marry into Memphis society only to find that money can’t buy her love, status or acceptance. And the story just might have worked . . . at some other studio. But not at Republic where even a decent budget and a respectable supporting cast sink under Leigh Jason’s hack megging of a script no one bothered to straighten out. Poor Joan survives a riverboat fire, multiple social snubs, a runaway horse, a fatal mint toddy and a murder trial, only to be taken down by Walter Plunkett’s appalling costumes. He may have designed GWTW, but he makes Joan look like a tank. Wayne is wasted as Blondell’s Fairy Godfather and the ‘Darkie’ factor runs pretty high for modern tastes. (Though, PC or not, the Hall Johnson Choir singing ‘Ezekiel Saw De Wheel’ is a wonder.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Joan Blondell was fading into second-leads and character parts, not necessarily a bad thing. Check her out in Elia Kazan’s phenomenal debut pic, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN/’45.

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