Lady for a Night (1942): John Wayne in Woman’s Picture–Starring Joan Blondell

lady_for_a_night_wayne_posterAfter A Man Betrayed, made in Paramount by a good director, Henry Hathaway, John Wayne was forced to return to Republic, and again play second fiddle to another female star: Joan Blondell.

In Lady for a Night, one of the few women’s pictures–and a costume melodrama at that–in his career, Wayne plays a gambler named Jack Morgan.

He is the former lover of Jenny Blake (Joan Blondell), the beautiful owner of the Memphis Belle, who aspires to a life in high society.  The upper classes of Memphis society look down on Jenny because of her occupation, even though the men of aristocratic families regularly visit her establishment.

Jack Morgan, co-owner of the Memphis Belle and an influential political boss, is in love with Jenny but arranges for her to be crowned queen of the high society Mardi Gras carnival in order to teach her a lesson.

lady_for_a_night_wayne_4Despite the humiliation she suffers when the partygoers are infuriated by her presence, Jenny is determined to break into society. Her opportunity comes in the form of Alan Alderson, the drunken, cynical scion of an old family that owns a once-grand plantation called “The Shadows.” Despite enormous tax burdens that threaten the loss of “The Shadows,” Alan gambles and loses heavily at Jenny’s club. She offers to forgive his debts and pay off his taxes if he will marry her, thereby giving her a respectable position. Alan reluctantly agrees and they are married immediately.

Jenny returns to the boat, and after telling the disappointed Jack of her marriage, she allows the Memphis Belle to be destroyed by an accidental fire. Alan’s father Stephen and aunt Julia are horrified by the marriage, although his mentally unstable aunt Katherine is thrilled by the thought of having a new friend.

Alan tells his family that they must accept Jenny due to their financial position, but Julia is determined to get rid of her. Julia’s efforts range from making insinuations about Jenny’s relationship with Jack to trying to ruin a ball she is to host.

Jack uses his influence to force Jenny’s guests to attend the ball, despite Julia’s efforts.  The final blow comes when Julia gives Jenny a blind carriage horse that almost causes Jenny’s death when it runs wild.

lady_for_a_night_wayne_3When Jenny orders Julia to leave “The Shadows,” Julia retaliates by fixing a poisoned drink for her. Alan drinks the toddy instead, however, and Jenny is accused of murdering him.

At the trial, Katherine, who knows that Julia deliberately poisoned the drink, is intimidated by her sister into lying to incriminate Jenny, and Jenny is convicted. Unable to bear the pressure, Katherine eventually reveals that Julia killed Alan, just as years earlier, jealousy caused her to kill Katherine’s fiancé.

Cleared of the crime, Jenny returns with Jack to his club, where she happily resumes her old life and agrees to marry him.  Always loyal and sympathetic, Jack comes back to Jenny’s life, offering a kinder life in the gambling world.

The film suffers from two problems, busy but preposterous plot, and more importantly, the unlikely teaming of John Wayne and Joan Blondell, who lack on-screen chemistry or rapport.

lady_for_a_night_wayne_2The picture did little for Wayne’s career, or, for that matter, for his appeal among female moviegoers. In later years, he would single this picture as an embarrassment that he would rather forget.

 

 

 

 

Credits

Running time: 88 Minutes.
Directed by Leigh Jason
Screenplay: Boyce DeGaw and Isabel Daw

Cast:

Joan Blondell Jenny Blake

John Wayne Jack Morgan

Philip Merivale Stephen Alderson

Blanche Yurk Julia Alderson

Ray Middleton Alan Alderson

Edith Barrett Katherine Alderson

Leonid Kinske Boris

Hattie Noe Chloe

Montagu Love Judge

Carmel Myer Mayor’s wife

Dorothy Burgess Flo

Guy Usher Governor

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