It goes from rural library to luxury liner in about three minutes, the jilted bookworm (Barbara Stanwyck) cashes in her savings and emerges mid-ocean as a fur-swathed socialite—Now, Voyager anticipated and distilled, and Frank Capra is just getting started. ("I'd set fire to the whole town and play a ukulele while it burned," snaps the awakened wallflower in a signature Stanwyck aria.) A room-number gag much later taken up by Godard (Détective) introduces her to the rising politician (Adolphe Menjou), their whirlwind holiday in Havana is a shimmering interlude before the harsh extramarital revelation back home. For the next twenty years he races toward the governor's chair while she gives up their daughter to dodge a scandal, the tenacious newshound (Ralph Bellamy) keeps a tabloid tally. Public and private spaces, budding Capra themes, irresistible force and immovable body: "What happens when they meet?" "They open a restaurant." The quickness and verve of the technique belie the singular bitterness of "a life of devotion," the realm of melodrama is surreal terrain. The "Advice to the Lovelorn" columnist is a pot-bellied shrugger, domesticity is mimed in the tenements using Keats' masks, and then it's too late: Impulsive affairs mock fruitless courtships that go on for decades, people grow gray but come alive with smoking pistols in hand. Fannie Hurst's Back Street is a clear model, the construction of the romantic image itself becomes the subject in Lady for a Day. As for Stanwyck's heroine, she pushes beyond "masochism" and into a mysterious serenity at the close, battered by weepie tropes yet as true to her emotions as Dreyer's Gertrud. With Dorothy Peterson, Thomas Jefferson, Charlotte Henry, and Myrna Fresholt. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce