Wayne Tribute: Lady from Louisiana (1941)

Wayne Tribute: Honoring the Duke

“Lady from Louisiana” is loosely based on the true tale of the rise and fall of racketeering in 1880s Louisiana. 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 on behalf of uplifter Blanche Brunot (Helen Westley), Wayne falls in love with the sultry southern belle Julie Mirbeau (Ona Munson), the daughter of the lottery promoter, General Mirbeau (henry Stephenson).

She 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 Williams (Ray Middleton), 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 the death. After she takes over the lottery’s operation herself, Wayne puts her on trial along with the other conspirators.

Rather preposterously, Republic decided to insert an action set-piece, a raging storms that crumbles the courthouse, while a broken levee becomes another real threat. It’s an easy way to get rid of the villains and petty criminals and leave Julie stranded on the levee.

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.

The movie is a crime yarn, calling for Wayne to appear in period costumes, which did not work, primarily because of its casting.

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.”