Lady for a Day ★★★★

Capra's at his most enchanting as he guides us through Robert Riskin's script about an elderly apple vendor's act of compassionate deception, keeping up a charade for her daughter's sake that she's well-off, with the help of some gangsters she knows from New York's seedy underbelly. Despite several genuinely moving scenes, especially in the first half-hour, this is a robust comedy that resists the temptation to force excessive sentimentality while also defying the logic (which would almost inevitably undermine it today) that everyone in a story like this must come clean, fall in love, learn a lesson. Instead it's just a beautiful moment with constant amusing convolutions, lovingly shot by Joseph Walker. The only drawback is that May Robson, wonderful and entirely believable as the ferocious-in-love Apple Annie -- again, one wonders, would any Hollywood movie today center a 75 year-old woman as its lead? -- disappears in the narrative during the film's second half, the runtime too breezy to let us spend much time watching her enjoy the spoils of her big moment, though major props to Capra and Riskin for not shoving all this into the framework of a conventional romance with a conventional finale. As ever, what springs forth from Capra isn't contrivance or phony simulations of emotion, but pure life, and all the loveliest corners of its incessant chaos.