Lady for a Day

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Lady for a Day is a 1933 American comedy-drama film directed by Frank Capra. The screenplay by Robert Riskin is based on the short story Madame La Gimp by Damon Runyon. It was the first film for which Capra received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director and the first Columbia Pictures release to be nominated for Best Picture.



The story focuses on Apple Annie, an aging and wretched fruit seller in New York City, whose daughter Louise has been raised in a Spanish convent since she was an infant. Louise has been led to believe her mother is a society matron named Mrs. E. Worthington Manville who lives at the Hotel Marberry. Annie discovers her charade is in danger of being uncovered when she learns Louise is sailing to New York with her fiancé Carlos and his father, Count Romero.

Among Annie's patrons are Dave the Dude, a gambling gangster who believes her apples bring him good luck, and his henchman Happy McGuire. Annie's friends ask Dave to rent her an apartment at the Marberry and, although he initially declines, he has a change of heart and arranges for her to live in the lap of luxury in a palatial residence belonging to a friend. His girlfriend, nightclub owner Missouri Martin, helps transform Annie from a dowdy street peddler to an elegant dowager. Dave arranges for pool hustler Henry D. Blake to pose as Annie's husband, the dignified Judge Manville.

At the pier, Annie tearfully reunites with Louise. When three society reporters become suspicious about Mrs. E. Worthington Manville, of whom they can find no public records, they are kidnapped by members of Dave's gang, and their disappearance leads the local newspapers to accuse the police department of incompetence.

A few days later, Blake - in the role of Judge Manville - announces he is planning a gala reception for Louise, Carlos, and Count Romero before they return to Spain, and he enlists Dave's guys and Missouri's dolls to pose as Annie's society friends. On the night of the reception, the police - certain Dave is responsible for the missing reporters - surround Missouri's club, where the gang has assembled for a final rehearsal. Dave calls Blake to advise him of their predicament, and Annie decides to confess everything to Count Romero. But fate - in the form of a sympathetic mayor and governor and their entourages - unexpectedly steps in and allows Annie to maintain her charade and keep Louise from learning the truth.


Damon Runyon's short story Madame La Gimp was published in the October 1929 issue of Cosmopolitan. Columbia Pictures purchased the screen rights in September 1932, and the studio scheduled the production to begin the following May, although director Frank Capra had misgivings about the project. He reminded studio head Harry Cohn he was "spending three hundred thousand dollars on a picture in which the heroine is seventy years old," to which Cohn responded, "All I know is the thing's got a wallop. Go ahead." Robert Riskin was assigned to develop the story for the screen and wrote four drafts, submitting the last on May 6, 1933, three days before principal photography began. Aside from some minor revisions made during production, this final script was filmed intact. Riskin's version deviated from the original Runyon story primarily in that it linked its central character and a number of plot developments to millions of Americans who were suffering from an economic crisis as a result of the onset of the Great Depression. Runyon was pleased with the changes and later said, "Lady for a Day was no more my picture than Little Miss Marker, which, like the former picture, was almost entirely the result of the genius of the scenario writers and the director who worked on it." [1]

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