Know Your Place… And Stay There.
I watched, and enjoyed, this kind-of okay costume drama set in 1870’s New Orleans called Lady for a Night, starring Joan Blondell and John Wayne, if you can believe that. The Duke hangs up his gunbelt and spurs this time around and exchanges them for white tie and evening dress, which suits him surprisingly well, especially if you think he looks his best with the grit and dirt of the trail about him. He’s a riverboat gambler who’s in love with Joan Blondell, who happens to own a riverboat casino (imagine how well THAT marriage would play out). Joan is in love with him, but she’s also in love with wealth, social standing, and power, of which John Wayne has little. So she forces a reckless drunken playboy socialite sap from a fine old family into marrying her in exchange for forgiving his steep gambling debts. In response, the fine old family vows to make Joan’s life a living hell, and when the sap dies suddenly (with a little help), his evil old aunt tries to send Joan to the gallows for murdering him. Through it all, the Duke stands by her, faithful and stalwart, hoping she’ll eventually figure out that he’s the guy she wants (good luck with THAT). And the moral of the story is: Keep to your own kind, know your place, and stay there, because your insolent attempts at social mobility can only end in disaster.
It’s pretty standard soapy melodrama stuff, but Joan Blondell is a little too sweet for the part – it’s obvious that Republic Pictures must have wanted a Scarlett O’Hara type figure in the lead, and Joan Blondell just ain’t it, no matter how nice her legs are, which has nothing to do with Scarlett, but they are nice legs. She’s just too cute. She’s got the sass, but not the smolder. Likewise, John Wayne is too sincere and earnest to fit the Rhett Butler mold, and he’s kind of wasted since he’s hardly in the picture and when he is, it’s to fawn over Joan. It’s an interesting but unremarkable relic from a transitional period in both their careers – John Wayne was just starting to get big enough to crawl out of B-movie purgatory, and Joan Blondell was trying to figure out where her career should go, having recently split from Warner Bros.
But hey. nobody can say they didn’t have fun making the picture!