Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Lady of Chance

I finally got around to watching A Lady of Chance, which I DVRed back at the beginning of November when Norma Shearer was TCM's Star of the Month. Thankfully, it's been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you can catch it any time you want.

Shearer plays Dolly, whom we first see working as a switchboard operator at a swanky big-city hotel. However, that is just a front for what she really does, which is wooing the rich guys who stop by the switchboard desk to ask for a number or place a long-distance call. She then intends to get money out of them, if not quite honestly. In fact, she's definitely quite a bit less than honest, as we learn when Brad (Lowell Sherman) and Gwen (Gwen Lee) come into the hotel. Brad used to be Dolly's partner in crime, back when she was going under the alias "Baby Face" (watch for a great process shot of her with her old Baby Face hairdo). Well, Brad figures that Dolly is angling to get a bunch of money from one of the rich men, and wants some of it for himself. So he blackmails her: she either involve him in her scheme, or he'll go to the police since she's violated her parole.

Needless to say, Dolly eventually decides to go along, if not without a little more "persuasion" from Brad. They bilk th eman out of $10,000, but Brad is just as honest as Dolly, giving the cash to Gwen to hide under the pillow, while telling Dolly that the man stopped payment on the check! She knows better, and beats Brad at his own game, snatching the money with a ploy of her own and running out on the two of them, getting out of town before the two of them realize what happened.

Cut to Atlantic City, which is where Dolly is now plying her trade. That's because there's a cement convention going on, and she figures there have to be some rich men at the convention. Sure enough, while at the telegraph stand, she spots a man named Steve Crandall (Johnny Mack Brown) writing a letter to his mother that he's looking to put through a million-dollar deal. Ah, here's a rich man! Dolly runs into him again and he's clearly smitten with her, it being love at first sight for him and just another job for her. Eventually he proposes marriage to her, which is how Dolly is going to get rich.

Except that she's not. They get back to his home town in Alabama and find out that he's living in a run-down house with a start-up business that hasn't actually made any big deals yet -- he's only invented a better type of cement and is hoping to sell the rights to manufacture it on a large scale. Dolly, realizing that she's not going to be rich, says that she's going to leave. But then she has a change of heart and actually returns home, much to Steve's surprise. Brad and Gwen don't realize either that Steve isn't rich or that Dolly actually does love him. They've tracked her down again, and plan to get some of the money that Steve doesn't have. Except that before Dolly can tell them Steve doesn't have the money, Steve comes home with the good news that he's sold the rights to his concrete for $100,000. So he's going to be rich after all; Brad and Gwen can bilk him; and dammit, they expect Dolly to be in on the act. But of course, she really does love him by now.

A Lady of Chance is a fun movie, if fairly predictable in its plot and with an ending that doesn't quite fit and leaves a gaping plot hole. Norma Shearer is good; Lowell Sherman is wonderful playing the sort of role that a Jack Carson might have had a decade later; and Johnny Mack Brown is extremely photogenic and does a good enough job with his aw-shucks character. All in all, there's not much to complain about here.

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