Judge Daryl Loomis is a gentleman by nature, but a rascal by choice.
Men who loved her grew sadder, but wiser.
Today, Carole Lombard isn't a household name like some of her contemporaries, but in her day, she was one of Hollywood's most promising young comediennes. Her life cut short at 33 after a plane crash meant that she would never see her prime, but her standout roles in My Man Godfrey and Mr. and Mrs. Smith ensure that she'll always have a place in film history. Her 1936 starring turn in Lady by Choice will never qualify as one of her classic pictures, but it does clearly show why Lombard was such a joy to watch.
Alabam Lee (Lombard) is a fan dancer whose sensual moves are deemed by a judge as too hot to handle and bans her from performing it. To improve her image, she decides to run a scam in which, on Mother's Day, she'll adopt a mother from a local nursing home. She chooses Patricia Patterson (May Robson, A Star Is Born), who claims to be a nice ol' Southern lady, but little does Alabam know that Patricia is a scam artist herself. With Patricia on her side, Alabama discovers that she's been ripped off, begins a new career of her own, and scams Patricia's young benefactor, Johnny Mills (Roger Pryor, Belle of the Nineties), only to find love in her mark.
Lady by Choice isn't anything special outside of the two lead performances. Lombard and Robson are fantastic in their respective roles, with strong chemistry between them, and just generally fun antics all around. Patterson plays the more physical role, with Lombard as more of a straight man, and it works really well throughout the film. Pryor's pretty generic, as is everyone else in the film, but as a showcase for these two great comic actors, Lady by Choice suits the purpose just fine.
Director David Burton (Dancers in the Dark) doesn't do anything very interesting stylistically with the picture, but he doesn't get in the way of the leads, either. The screenplay by Jo Swerling (Leave Her to Heaven) is quite strong, giving both women good lines to chew on and a modestly interesting scenario to work through.
There isn't much weight to the story, but for a romantic comedy of the early-to-mid 1930s, it's more interesting than most. It's hard to tell whether this is a pre-Code movie or not; its release in 1934, the year that hard enforcement began, would suggest that it was shot before enforcement, but it all depends on when it was screened by censors. The sexy fan dancing setup suggests pre-Code, while the fact that we don't ever see the dance suggests post.
In any case, it's all fairly tame, but interest develops in the plot when Alabam realizes her love right at the moment that everyone else has a change of heart about running the scam and stop believing that she really loves Johnny. Again, it's not much, and far from essential 1930s cinema, but Lady by Choice is an above average romantic comedy for its time and well worth watching for Carole Lombard fans.
Lady by Choice is a fun, engaging comedy, for sure, but major points get docked for Sony's poor DVD for the film. As part of their Choice Collection, I didn't expect much, but what I got is tough to accept. The killer is that the image isn't anamorphically enhanced, meaning that the 1.33:1 is stretched, distorting the image and making it look worse than it would have with just the print as it stands, which is dirty, with a fair bit of damage, though not enough to really distract if not for the rest. The mono sound is below average, with hissing and pops throughout, although the dialog is always clear enough to enjoy. There are no extras, not even a menu screen.
Lady by Choice is definitely an obscurity, and maybe not an essential film in Carole Lombard's body of work, but it's a heck of a lot of fun, with good performances, a funny script, and a nice message that's a little less cloying that what was often found in romantic comedies of the day. This is a strong film that is most certainly recommended, though hopefully in a different form than this shoddy DVD.
Sony should be ashamed of their release, but the movie is not guilty.
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