Apple Annie is an indigent woman who has always written to her daughter in Spain that she is a member of New York's high society. Now her daughter plans to return to America with her new fiance and his father, a member of Spain's aristocracy. Annie must pretend to be wealthy or the count will not give his blessing. She gets the help of Dave the Dude, who considers Annie a good luck charm, to obtain a luxury apartment and entertain the visitors, but things don't always go quite as planned...
This version contains an introduction to the movie by Frank Capra Jnr.
Warren William ... Dave the Dude
May Robson ... Apple Annie
Guy Kibbee ... Judge Henry G. Blake
Glenda Farrell ... Missouri Martin
Ned Sparks ... Happy
Walter Connolly ... Count Romero
Jean Parker ... Louise
Nat Pendleton ... Shakespeare
Barry Norton ... Carlos
Halliwell Hobbes ... Butler
Hobart Bosworth ... Governor
Robert Emmett O'Connor ... Inspector
Back in the days of the studio system only one B picture outfit managed to vault itself into the big time and compete with the majors. That studio was Harry Cohn's Columbia and the film that did it was Frank Capra's Lady For A Day.
In his very candid memoirs Capra said unabashedly that his goal was to win one of those statues nicknamed Oscar. The Motion Picture Academy Awards were only five years old, but still the awards were coveted then because it meant prestige and far bigger salaries and in a director's case, bigger budgets to work with.
Capra said he tried and failed with a very arty film, The Bitter Tea of General Yen which lost money for Columbia and Cohn. He set out try it a different way with a sentimental story from that most sentimental of writers, Damon Runyon. The original story was entitled Madame LaGimp and it was about a street beggar who the great city of New York takes to its heart for a brief period with the assistance of a gangster with a streak of sentiment.
But this was Columbia, the poverty row studio so Capra couldn't get the only old lady movie star around in Marie Dressler from MGM. May Robson was his second choice for Apple Annie, the street beggar who has a daughter in a convent school in Spain and engaged to marry into Spanish nobility.
As for the gangster Capra wanted James Cagney, but Harry Cohn couldn't pry him loose from Jack Warner. He was offered Warren William instead and certainly the dapper and elegant William played a different kind of gangster than Cagney would have. For William's moll, Capra's partner and screenwriter for Lady for a Day Robert Riskin persuaded his then girl friend Glenda Farrell to take the part. She Jack Warner was willing to part with.
With the great skill that Capra had in casting his films, some of the best character actors around like Guy Kibbee, Nat Pendleton, Ned Sparks, and Walter Connolly filled out his roster. A lot of these people would work for Frank Capra again and again.
Came Oscar time and Lady for a Day had the great distinction of being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay adapted from another source. This was the first film from Columbia Pictures that was ever nominated for anything by the Motion Picture Academy. May Robson made Capra forget he ever wanted Marie Dressler. Unfortunately she lost to a young actress picking up her first of four Oscars, Katharine Hepburn.
Riskin lost to the writers of Little Women and the film itself lost that year to the British story Cavalcade. One of the most embarrassing moments in Frank Capra's life occurred when Awards host Will Rogers in announcing the Best Director said "come up and get it Frank."
Capra rose thinking it was him and the spotlights came down on him. Then there was a frantic buzzing and the spotlight shifted to the opposite side of the hall where Frank Lloyd got up to accept the award that was meant for him for directing Cavalcade. Talk about feeling like a nickel looking for change.
However next year Capra's next film It Happened One Night swept all the major Oscars including his first. It sounds like something that only could have happened in a Frank Capra movie.
This sublime, charming fairy tale, about an old apple seller (the lovely May Robson) who is helped by a gangster named Dave the Dude (Warren William) and his buddies in order to make her rich and respectable for her returning daughter and in-law from Spain, is conceivably Capra's freshest, most underrated classic, perhaps with the exception of "The Bitter Tea of General Yen", which was also released in 1933. While "Bitter Tea" was a commercial flop, "Lady For a Day" proved to be Capra's first big success with the Depression-era audiences and a sign of things to come. A must-see!
I'm no Capra fan, but here's a second movie of his (along with "The Miracle Woman") that I just loved. Maybe his pre-Codes are better than his other movies? I may have to change my mind about Capra, or at least see some more of his pre-Code movies; they're terrific!
This movie was sweet and touching, without being sickening sweet or melodramatic. This movie also has lots of humor and some great dialogue. This 72-yr-old movie holds up extremely well. I was utterly charmed by this movie.
The story revolves around an elderly woman, Apple Annie, who is quite poor. She sells apples for a living and sends all her money to her daughter, Louise, who lives in Spain. Annie is ashamed of her lifestyle, and she leads her daughter to believe she's a high-society lady by writing letters on the stationery of a posh hotel. Annie even has a friend on the inside of the hotel who passes Louise's letters that are sent to the hotel to Annie.
One of Apple Annie's clients is "Dave the Dude", the head of a local mob. Before he does any business dealings, Dave always buys an apple from Annie for good luck.
Well, not to spoil the movie too much, let me just say that Annie finds out her daughter is coming to town (New York) and she panics. Her panhandler friends talk Dave into setting Annie up in a suite at the posh hotel so that she can continue the pretense for her daughter's sake. Dave gets most of his mobster and street friends involved in one way or another -- the potential is here for great sappiness, but amazingly the story unfolds with just pure sweetness and lots of humor that has held up very well over the past 3/4-century.
The performances by the lead actors were terrific. May Robson as Annie was wonderful; she gave a tender, subtle performance as the mother who loved her daughter so much, yet was so ashamed of the way she (Annie) lived. Warren William was terrific as Dave the Dude - I think his was probably the toughest role to play as he had to be a "bad guy" mob head as well as a softie who went out of his way to make Annie a lady for a day. Guy Kibbee as Annie's husband was superb, a common pool hustler who played an upper-crust gentleman. The rest of the cast were pretty good too ... I especially enjoyed the actor who played the dry and sardonic "Happy"; he had some of the best lines in the show.
So, in conclusion, snappy dialogue, nice mix of drama and humor, and just the right amount of sweetness make for a wonderful pre-Code movie. If you enjoy old movies, this is a movie that you definitely won't be sorry you watched. Highly recommended.
This movie must have played very well to depression-era audiences. The story of an apple seller who has been lying to her daughter who has done well for herself in Europe is sweet, heart touching and funny.
Great, quotable lines in the script, well written. The outdoors night photography is luminous, everything seems to glow, a scene in an outdoor garden with the daughter and her fiancee kissing behind a glass water fountain is beautiful to this day.
The ideas of friends and strangers coming to a needy person's aid prefigures such later Capra classics as "It's A Wonderful Life". In fact, they would make an excellent double feature together.
In our cynical times, movies like this can be seen as hokey, in fact the name Capra was frequently turned into Capra-corn, even in his day. But the fact that his movies are still treasured and enjoyed today shows that goodness is still an enduring quality and that being drawn to goodness and fairy tales like this gives us hope that those feelings are still in us.
Frank Capra had been loaned to MGM to work on a film called "Soviet," in exchange for $50,000 and Robert Montgomery's participation in this picture; Capra also hoped to get Marie Dressler's services from MGM. After "Soviet" was cancelled as a project, Columbia was unable to get either James Cagney from Warner Bros. or William Powell from MGM for the role of Dave the Dude; they also tried to get W.C. Fields from Paramount to play Judge Blake, but again could not make a deal.
A number of beggars in downtown Los Angeles were cast in small roles, including the legless man, nicknamed Shorty, whom Capra had remembered as selling pencils when the director was a paperboy.
Radio City Music Hall booked the film's premiere without seeing it, because Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) had been the theater's first film and they considered the director to be good luck.
At this point Columbia was still a poverty row studio with Harry Cohn adamant against hiring actors under long term contracts. The cast of this film was largely obtained on loan from Warner Brothers' pool of talented character actors. Warren William was at the peak of his career and being loaned out to lowly Columbia was meant to humble any thoughts of greater salary demands. Although his career would wane in the mid-30's, this film was a big hit.