November 7, 2013

May Robson, Lady for a Day

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Just as I was previously mentioning how ladies of this era were sure to get nominations for being a caring mother or a caring maternal figure, along comes another performance that is exactly that. May Robson got the role of Apple Annie after Marie Dressler wasn't able to take it on (and wouldn't it have been a hoot if Dressler got 3 nominations in a row for playing different versions of the same woman?). I didn't have any expectations going into the film, and I suppose it was because I was unfamiliar with Robson and thus couldn't form any expectations, but ultimately I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed the film and its leading lady.

 photo ScreenShot2013-09-23at13458AM.jpgIf I had to sum up Robson and Lady for a Day in one word, it'd have to be delightful. This is exactly the kind of filmmaking that comes to mind when I think about Golden Age movies--a good story that's just a little bit cheesy yet nevertheless interesting enough to maintain one's attention. I will say with caution that May Robson's work in the first act of Lady for a Day is better than what Katharine Hepburn does throughout her entire performance in Morning Glory. And I think that the root of Robson's greatness here is that she has so much soul in her. The way she fights with desperation for her daughter's letter, the way she has the wind knocked out of her when she reads her daughter's letter, the way she drunkenly answers the door and the look she gives when Dave the Dude agrees to help her--everything Apple Annie does or says evokes so much feeling and emotion. There is a vibrant energy in her that her nominees cannot match (though that's not to say Hepburn didn't get close). When she argues with the hotel manager there is a tenderness in the way she pleads that just broke my heart. She has the right amount of bite but just enough frailty to make us pity yet adore this poor old lady. And I was ready to conclude that she had the win in the bag until...the second act.

 photo ScreenShot2013-09-22at114713PM.jpgOnce Apple Annie is given a makeover and becomes the lady to which the film's title refers to, her characterization as well as the film's dynamic shifts rather abruptly. Further, Apple Annie's transformation from povert woman to sophisticated lady is a little sloppily done--the character loses all of her previous qualities and characteristics with a simple film cut and subsequently becomes a hollow shell of an individual. There is no My Fair Lady process of becoming a lady, no moments of struggle where Apple Annie accidentally slips and shows the povert side of her lady--we are only to believe that Apple Annie walks out of the makeover room with all the innate qualities of an upperclass aristocrat. After having dominated the entire first act, the film forgets about Robson and the attention turns to Dave the Dude and his posse's antics instead, and what little appearances Robson makes from then on out are entirely uninteresting and one-dimensional--she'll show up for a concerned close-up regarding her daughter here, then she'll have a shot where she warmly holds her daughter there, followed by another concerned close-up, all the while repeatedly driving home the fact that she loves her daughter a lot and all the hijinks have to work out because dammit her love for her daughter is so strong. It's very robotic, and Robson loses the very soul that made her so vivid and captivating in the first act, and it's all rather disappointing. Robson's performance is split into two qualities--wonderful and okay. Begrudgingly I give it a

Entirely thanks to her solid work early on. 

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