A Lady of Chance (1928)

In her last silent film, Norma Shearer stars as Dolly Morgan, a telephone operator who tricks wealthy men out of their money by using her devious feminine wiles. Dolly once known as "Angel Face" used to work worked with fellow con-artists Brad (Lowell Sherman) and Gwen (Gwen Lee) on the same racket, but escaped by them by changing her look and going independent. Brad and Gwen find her and try to hoodwink her out of a scam of $10k but she hoodwinks them right out of the same money! Not happy with being one-upped, Brad and Gwen follow Dolly on her biggest scam yet, a newly made millionaire, Steve Crandall (Johnny Mack Brown) who is falling head over heels in love with Dolly. They marry and when he takes her home Dolly realizes that Steve is only a millionaire at heart. Dolly is at first thrown off by this but finds herself falling in love with Steve. She wants to protect him from Brad and Gwen but also doesn't want him to know about her sordid past. Things become wonderfully complex as Dolly tries to make things right.

In 1928, various other studios were already full-speed ahead making part-talkies and all-talking pictures while MGM was still dragging their feet. They had been so successful with their silent pictures that they didn't want to throw out a good thing. The change to talkies was inevitable, as even poor-quality talkies were proving to be box-office gold as the novelty of the form drew crowds to the theaters. A Lady of Chance (1928) started off as a silent film and then talking scenes were spliced in making it a part-talkie. Norma Shearer didn't partake in the talking scenes so Norma fans only got to hear her voice in MGM's first talking picture The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929). I have only ever seen the version TCM has shown of A Lady of Chance which is all silent.

I consider this film a silent-talkie hybrid. It works very well as a silent. All of the characters have their own dualities, they are not what they seem to be. They are all putting up fronts whether deviously or on subconsciously. This relegates a lot of expression in their faces which we read in order to understand what's going on. The form of the story and how it flows is very much like talkies from the early '30s and less like the silents from the early to mid '20s. It seems less theatrical and staged and more fluid.

Dolly: I had no idea a big business man could be so tender.
Steve: It's easy to be tender with you.

This is by far my favorite Norma Shearer film. Norma is at the height of her natural beauty and because this is a silent film, she still uses plenty of her vibrant facial expressions and characteristic hand movements which suit the movie and her character. Hunky former college football star Johnny Mack Brown complements her very well and I think they made a very good-looking onscreen couple. Also, this film is just fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a romantic comedy with a good amout of dramatic tension. The only thing I don't like is that there are a couple racist moments, but I concede it's 1928 and in comparison to some other silents this one is pretty tame.

Johnny Mack Brown & Norma Shearer on set (at the beach) with Director Robert Z. Leonard

A Lady of Chance is not available on DVD but my fingers are crossed that the Warner Bros. Archive will make it available for a made-to-order DVD-R very soon (they own all pre-1986 MGM films). If not, Turner Classic Movies shows this film once in a blue moon, usually at some ungodly hour or on their regular Silent Sunday nights feature.

I hope you enjoyed Norma Shearer week!

5 comments:

  1. I loved the Norma Shearer week! Why not follow it up with more theme weeks? You did a great job.

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  2. What? Norma Week is over already? Say it isn't so! I'm loving all these amazing posts!

    So this is where your amazing header photo comes from! I've been trying to figure that out.

    A Lady of Chance sounds like such a sweet film. I don't think I've ever seen a Johnny Mack Brown movie, which is quite shameful. How strange that the matinee idol spent most of his later career turning out westerns. No wonder I haven't seen many of his films...

    Oh, and the artist in me can't resist a deviation: I love the artwork on the movie poster! If there's a whole website full of posters like that, I'd love to see it!

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  3. Thank you so much for that post, Raquel. I've never seen A Lady of Chance and I've always wanted to. I always did like stories about grifters. I hope the Warner Archive makes it available soon!

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  4. If anyone wants to see clips of A Lady of Chance e-mail me and I'll send you some links. Didn't want to link or embed them here so they don't get pulled. :-)

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  5. A great week of Shearer. I feel I need to be on the lookout for more of her films.

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