Lady from Louisiana (1941): John Wayne Fights Corruption in New Orleans. While Falling for Ona Munson

Mixing romance and action with a comedic touch and some special effects, The Lady from Louisiana is very loosely based on the true tale of the rise and fall of racketeering in the Gay Nineties, New Orleans in the 1880s.

John Wayne plays John Reynolds, a young Northern attorney who comes at the request of a crusading reformer to eradicate the lottery controlled by the city boss.

The movie was released by Republic, where John Wayne was under contract, just one month after “A Man Betrayed,” and has the same plot—and the same dramatic flaws.

Arriving from New England to look into the Louisiana lottery, Wayne falls in love with the sultry southern belle Julie Mirbeau (Ona Munson), the daughter of the lottery promoter, General Mirbeau (Henry Stephenson).

Upon arrival on a riverboat they are met by Julie’s father, who runs the popular Louisiana State Lottery Company and Reynold’s uplifter Aunt, Blanche Brunot (Helen Westley), who is a key figure in the anti-Lottery forces,  hoping that as State’s Attorney he will end the Lottery.

Wayne is invited to the Mirbeau mansion, and Julie and her father explain that the people of New Orleans are fun-loving and like gambling, and that the Lottery actually funds many charitable institutions, such as hospitals and levees for the river.

Unknown to General Mirbeau is that his assistant Blackie (Ray Middleton) protects rackets and murders lottery winners through his army of thugs, led by Cuffy Brown (Jack Pennick).

The Lottery forces also have information sources within the State’s Attorney’s office, which  reveals every move Wayne has planned to raid illegal activities, as well as disclosing corrupting judges and other officials through their brothels.

Initially, Julie is unaware of Wayne’s identity and mission, and when the revelations are made they cause a rift in their relationship.   The one man who benefits from the split is Mirbeau’s lieutenant Blackie, who desires Julie for himself.

Julie sets upon to persuade Wayne that the lottery is an innocent, harmless affair, but when the lottery winner is murdered by one of Blackie’s men (Jack Rennick), Wayne becomes even more determined to expose the corrupt operation—the profits go to Blackie instead of other useful purposes.

When Mirbeau himself realizes that, he is murdered by Blackie, but Julie blames Wayne’s campaign for causing her father’s death.  When she takes over the lottery’s operation herself, Wayne puts her on trial along with the other conspirators.

The battle between the two forces escalates, leading into a climax of lightning striking and destroying a courthouse where a trial is going on and a break in the levees during torrential rains that flood the city.

Republic Pictures spared no expense in making the film, with many extras in colorful costumes and recreations of Mardi Gras. The special effects miniatures are especially manifest in the fight scenes and flood climax.

The studio spent a lot of money on one action set-piece, a raging storm that crumbles the courthouse.  The broken levee was an easy subplot to get rid of the villains and petty criminals, and at the same time, leave Julie stranded, waiting to be rescued.

Blackie gets away aboard a streamer, but Wayne follows him and persuades the captain to plug the gap in the levee with his ship. The fight between Wayne and Blackie leads to the latter’s drowning and to Julie’s rescue.

In this period crime yarn, Wayne was asked to wear elegant suits and other regalia, and he was not always comfy in them, having performed in mostly Westerns u until then.

Upon release, most critics dismissed the picture, which is poorly directed by Bernard Vorhaus. The “N.Y. Herald Tribune” film critic represents many of his colleagues when he wrote: “John Wayne, an Iowan boy by birth, who speaks with the slow drawl of a Texan, is an extremely likable leading man, but he doesn’t seem to fit the part of the upright young man from New England. Not that Wayne can’t throw a punch as well as any other rugged screen actor, but his characteristic easy-going way of playing betrays the person he is supposed to be.”