Sunday, February 18, 2024

Panama Lady

I had a couple of Lucille Ball movies on my DVR, although I don't think they were all from her day in Summer Under the Stars. One that I wasn't certain I'd seen before, and definitely hadn't blogged about before, is Panama Lady.

The movie starts with a shot of Lucille Ball, playing a woman named Lucy, walking along a crowded sidewalk in New York. Ominous music wells up, which is a sign that Lucy is being chased, so she walks into a bar to try to escape. But the man chasing her, McTeague (Allan Lane) finds her, and wants her to go with him. Cue the flashback to why she doesn't want to go with him....

We don't just go back in time; we also go back in space, to Panama, in a bar that served the people who came down to the Canal Zone, then under American ownership, either to work there or on their way through to one or another place in South America. Lenore (Evelyn Brent), owns the bar, although it's doing badly enough financially that she can't really support the floor show of which Lucy is a part.

Lucy has a boyfriend in Roy (Donald Briggs), but she doesn't realize that he's an adventure-seeker who is currently involved in running guns to one or another opposition group in South America. She even stows away on his plane to try to escape Panama, but she's found out and sent back to Panama. There, she meets the aforementioned McTeague. One of Lucy's "friends" slips McTeague a mickey, and when he passes out the friend steals McTeague's money and flees, leaving Lucy holding the bag.

McTeague gives Lucy two choices, and one of them isn't much of a choice. The non-choice is jail, and the other one is to go down to South America with McTeague, who is prospecting for oil on a plot of land that he hasn't really registered as a claim with the authorities. Lucy doesn't particularly care for it, but she doesn't really have any way of getting out. She also has to deal with McTeague's indigenous maid Cheema, who doesn't like her at all.

Lucy had left a crude map at Lenores bar, however, and after a while Roy is given the map so he is able to find the place. Roy is going to rescue Lucy and they can live happily ever after. Except that since all of this is a flashback, we know that Lucy winds up in New York pursued by McTeague, not Roy. That's because Roy discovers that McTeague still hasn't had time to file the paperwork, and that McTeague has likely hit oil. The lure of easy money, combined with the fact that Roy isn't a good guy, means that Roy isn't really going to rescue Lucy....

As I was watcing Panama Lady it seemed awfully familiar to me. That's because the movie is a remake of a movie from the early 1930s called Panama Flo, and I believe it's that earlier movie that I'd already seen (although I search of the blog says I haven't blogged about that one either). Panama Lady was made well before Lucille Ball became a comedy legend, at a time when RKO still didn't know what they had. Ball, of course, is a better actress than just being zany in later years might lead people to believe, and she certainly had the range to carry off a role like the one she has here.

The material, however, is pedestrian, and feels dated, which it is since it was lifted from a pre-Code. Still, Ball does well with it, and makes the movie worth at least one watch.

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