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GAMBLING LADY (director: Archie Mayo; screenwriters: based on a story by Doris Malloy/Ralph Block/Doris Malloy; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Harold McLernon; music: Bernhard Kaun; cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Jennifer Lady Lee), Joel McCrea (Garry Madison), C. Aubrey Smith (Peter Madison), Pat O’Brien (Charlie Lang), Robert Barrat (Mike Lee), Arthur Vintin (Jim Fallin), Willard Robertson (D.A.), Claire Dodd (Sheila Aiken), Philip Faversham (Don), Phillip Reed (Steve), Huey White (Mealy – Bodyguard), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Cornelius, Corporation Lawyer), Louise Beavers (Peter’s Maid); Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Presnell Sr. ; WB; 1934)
“Is a fine example of the breezy chic entertainment for its time.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran filmmaker Archie Mayo(“Doorway to Hell”/”Bordertown”/”Petrified Forest”), usually good in bringing home a box office winner for the studio, as he does here, does an adequate job directing this so-so implausible quickie drama on gambling among the society set, that was released just prior to the Production Code’s censorship. It’s based on a story by Doris Malloy and is haphazardly written by the author and Ralph Block. It’s fast paced and heavy on action sequences over story development, but is a fine example of the breezy chic entertainment for its time.

Lady Lee (Barbara Stanwyck) is the daughter of honest gambler Mike Lee (Robert Barrat), who worked in the shady casinos run by the syndicate. The only child seemingly inherited from dad his ethical code of never cheating even if it means no income. Pops, when he can’t pay his debts and refuses the syndicate’s offer to cheat, jumps out of their apartment window, leaving Lady on her own. Knowing only about poker games and racetracks, Lady chooses to become a pro gambler but only if she can do it without cheating like dad. Her father’s unscrupulous independent bookie friend Charlie Lang (Pat O’Brien) gives Lady some financial help getting over the tragedy, but she turns down his marriage proposal and they still remain pals. Through her dad’s friendship with smoothie, hands clean syndicate boss Jim Fallin (Arthur Vintin), Lady gets a job dealing for the casino mob in private games on Park Avenue but refuses to run a crooked game. Wealthy society man Garry Madison (Joel McCrea) by accident takes two coppers into the illegal Park Avenue gambling game and the coppers pinch everyone there, including Lady. Before spending the night in the slammer, the miffed Lady has some choice words for an apologetic Garry, who is trying to make a case for his innocence. In the morning Charlie pays Lady’s bail before the society guy can. But Garry confronts her and asks for forgiveness, when she relents he proposes. Garry then brings his future bride to the country estate of his aristocratically polite and generous gambler father Peter Madison (C. Aubrey Smith), who wants to make sure she’s not a gold-digger and bribes her with an offer of $50,000 not to marry his son. But she refuses and thereby earns his deep respect.

Syndicate boss Fallin, who you figure is the main villain, takes a powder for the second half of the film and that leaves haughty society lady Sheila Aiken (Claire Dodd), Garry’s close society friend and former romantic interest, to take on the heavy role as the film turns away from being merely a story of the rackets but also one about a love triangle.The bitchy Sheila accidentally meets the honeymooners in Monte Carlo and tries to win back Garry by smearing Lady as someone unsuitable for him because she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. Back in New York, Charlie gets arrested and Lady bails him out with the jewels she pawned that she won in cards from the snobby Sheila. A jealous Garry refuses to let wifey see the bookie anymore. When the bookie is killed, Garry is falsely accused of the murder because he was seen arguing with Charlie right before the murder and then Garry turns up with the pawn ticket. There’s no tension because we know it was a mob hit, but there are some incredulous melodramatics about Sheila being Garry’s alibi but he won’t tell the DA (Willard Robertson) because he does not wish to compromise her reputation for being in her apartment all night with a married man. It leads to a messy and unbelievable climax involving a fast divorce and a faster reconciliation when the truth is learned how come Sheila will be Garry’s alibi if Lady agrees to a divorce and asks for a big annulment from her wealthy hubby (a plot orchestrated by the conniving Sheila). When Garry’s pop spots Lady tearing up the alimony settlement note and sobbing, everything gets squared away.

It’s a pre-Code film, so the criminals get away with everything–from rigging the gambling games to murder. The viewer also gets to see a suicide, a divorce and the acceptance of illegal gambling by the society crowd.

For my money, Ferdinand Gottschalk, playing Garry’s nebbish corporation lawyer, though only in a bit part, stole every scene he was in and cracked me up with his fidgety antics.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”