Sunday, April 1, 2012

Silent Sundays: A Lady of Chance (1928)




A Lady of Chance has a plot that has been seen before: a woman con artist works her charm on rich men and takes them for all their worth but there is that one guy that she winds up falling in love with and cannot go through with her plan. There are a few twists, nothing earth shattering and brilliant but ones that actually leave you nervous and hoping that the lady gets her happy ending since she worked so hard to reform herself for the guy.
            Dolly Morgan (Norma Shearer) is a telephone operator at a “ritzy” hotel. As the customers walk in and out of the lobby she keeps her eye on the men that come in. She knows which of them has money and which are not worth her time. One man that is worth her time is T. Roger Hammond. Dolly pretends to cry and catches Hammond’s attention, he comes over to her and asks what is wrong. Dolly tells him her stocking is ripped (and shows him the spot on her thigh), her whole year’s pay has been stolen, and her little brother is very sick. Hammond has sympathy for her and tells her he will take her out that night.
            At the reception desk a woman is standing with a man. She recognizes Dolly from some racket and pictures Dolly with a different look. Dolly sees her walk over and pretends not to notice her but the woman figures her out and tells her she’s got her number. Dolly runs out of the hotel and thinks she is being followed by the police. The two men get her and they take her back to the man who was in the hotel. His name is Bradley (Lowell Sherman) and he and the woman Gwen have worked with Dolly before in a con outfit. Bradley blackmails Dolly telling her that she has skipped out on parole and he will call the police if she does not split the money she was planning on taking off of Hammond with them.
            Hammond goes to the police to tell them he has been blackmailed by a lady and who claimed to be her husband. The police give him some pictures to look over and he immediately picks out Dolly’s old picture.
            Bradley comes back in the morning with the money from Hammond. Dolly is sleeping on the couch and Gwen is in the next room wide awake. Dolly hears Bradley come in and go into the next room. Through the keyhole he sees Bradley give Gwen the ten thousand and when he comes out to her (she jumped back onto the couch) he says that Hammond has stopped payment on the check. Dolly goes into Gwen’s room and pretends to be upset about the stopped check and gets Gwen upset as well. As she has her head on Gwen’s shoulder she slips her hand under the pillow and takes the ten thousand in cash. A few minutes later Bradley and Gwen realize the money is gone and have just heard Dolly close the front door.
            Dolly heads down to Atlantic City for a convention to see what rich man she can swindle next. She overhears a very handsome young man talking about a plantation that could make over a million dollars a year. Dolly thinks he is talking about his plantation and sets her scheme on him. She sees his name is Steve Crandall and that he is from Alabama. They have a great night on the boardwalk together.  While on the boardwalk she makes her heel snap and appear that she has hurt her ankle. Steve carries her back to his room and Dolly gets to work hooking her mark. She finds that she does really like him but she was not prepared for him to ask her to marry him.
            Her joy quickly fades when Bradley and Gwen find her once again. They want in on her mark since she stiffed them out of ten thousand dollars. Dolly agrees but plays Bradley and Gwen yet again by setting Bradley up to be the husband. She pretends a porter is Steve and bolts out of the room. When Bradley comes out of the bathroom he sees a maid instead.
            Steve takes Dolly back to his home in Alabama. She sees a woman in a brand new car thinking the woman is Steve’s mother but she is not. His mother pulls up in an old dusty car that still has some payments to be made on it. When they get to the house they do not pull up to a big plantation but a small two story house next to a plantation. Dolly is upset and Steve can see she is. He tells her he does blame her if she wants to leave and appears to leave on the late night train back to New York. The next morning Steve goes up to his room to find Dolly on an arm chair. She did not leave because she really loves Steve.
            Unfortunately Bradley and Gwen once again find Dolly. They tell Steve’s mother that they are Dolly’s cousins. They want in on Dolly’s mark again but they will not believe her that Steve is not rich and that she really loves him. Dolly actually threatens Gwen at gun point not to tell Steve about her past. Just when Dolly convinces Bradley and Gwen that they have no money Steve comes running in from town that he has received one hundred thousand dollars for his cement that never breaks.
            They all head back up to New York to celebrate. Bradley pretends to draw up a deal that will swindle Steve out of much of his money. Dolly does not want to hurt Steve since he has been so good to her and really loves her. She decides to confess to everything and turn herself in to the police. Bradley and Gwen get away by the time the police come. Steve tells Dolly he will be there for her when her mess blows over, she wants him to find a nice girl but he will not have any of it.
            When Dolly meets with the warden he tells her that she has been paroled into her husband’s custody. At this point Dolly sees that Steve really and truly loves her and she is very happy to see him.
            Norma Shearer was so good as Dolly. I love seeing her as the amoral woman she played that type so well. I will say that her facial expressions at times were annoying and very exaggerated but at other times they were so perfect and really made the scene. I died laughing when Steve puts a hot towel around her leg after she “sprained” her expression was hysterical. Another good scene for her was when Dolly is at Steve’s house. She sees a saying in a frame “Love is Everything”, she shakes her head at it, laughs a little, gives as exasperated look and puts her head in her hand. You would have to see the scene to understand but Shearer did a good job in it.  I read in a book recently where the author says that Shearer was not the best actress ever nor was she the prettiest but she was watchable. Before reading this I could never figure out why I liked watching Norma Shearer in films but after reading that quote I know why, I agree with the author Shearer is completely watchable. There is something about her that when she comes on screen you cannot look away she hooks you.
            The rest of the cast was great. Johnny Mack as Steve was adorable and quite handsome. Lowell Sherman was the perfect con artist he was smooth, oily, and irritating. He brought doom with him when he came on the screen. Sherman is what I like about 1920s-1930s con artist/bad guys they are loathsome but smooth and charming at the same time. Gwen Lee as, well as Gwen, was really good as the moll. She was great as Sherman’s sidekick they looked good and wicked together.
            A Lady of Chance is a good film with a very good cast. As I said at the beginning the story has been told and retold in several classic films but out of the ones with this story I liked A Lady of Chance the best. There are scenes that are sweet and other scenes such as Steve running home with the news of his cement and you want Bradley and Gwen to get out that really keeps you on your toes and provide a little suspense. A Lady of Chance is currently available on youtube to view so head over to see it as soon as you can before it gets taken down. It is also available on DVD.