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THE LADY IS WAITING (Columbia, 1942), under the direction of Mitchell Leisen, pairs Marlene Dietrich (on loan from Universal) and Fred MacMurray (from Paramount) for the only time. Nearly forgotten, and bearing no relation to the 1934 British-made movie of the same name starring Leslie Howard, the film itself offers the diverse Dietrich an opportunity to perform in light comedy far removed from the type of characters she's played during her early Paramount years (1930-1935), especially those under the stern direction of Josef Von Sternberg or those re-inventive offerings from Universal (1939-42) that all began with the classic western, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939). For MacMurray, it's another range for his talent playing a no-nonsense pediatrician who happens to detest babies, yet the same actor who made fathering his career in later years, especially the long running TV series, "My Three Sons" (1960-72).
As the opening credits present itself through passages taken from a theater program guide, the story introduces Elizabeth "Liza" Madden (Marlene Dietrich), a celebrated New York entertainer leaving the stage door entrance and approached by awaiting fans wanting her autograph. Minutes later, she's seen returning to her luxurious East 85th Street apartment holding a baby (David James) she found abandoned in a 47th street rooming house, much to the astonishment of her personal secretary, Buddy (Aline MacMahon), and Kenneth Harling (Stanley Ridges), her business representative. Since the infant is dressed in pink, and taking it for granted to be a girl, she names her Joanna. Elizabeth learns different after notifying Doctor Corey T. McBain (Fred MacMurray), a baby doctor, who, following an examination, tells her it's a boy. Re-naming him Corey, Elizabeth goes through whatever channels she could to adopt the infant. While Mrs. Cummings (Elisabeth Risdon) of the child welfare department agrees on letting her keep the baby until she can further look into the matter regarding its parents, in the meantime, Liza must also prove herself solvent and married. Choosing McBain as her marriage of convenience husband, she readily relocates herself into a larger apartment so McBain, having given up his practice, could have enough room for his experiments studying the blood stream of rabbits for his cure for pneumonia, and Little Corey, called "Butch" by the McBain, to have his very own nursery. As these two strangers slowly grow fond of one another, situations occur as Liza encounters Frances (Arline Judge), McBain's fortune hunting ex-wife living in the same building, and the arrival of the baby's parents (Murray Alper and Kitty Kelly) and their lawyer (Charles Lane) who, seeing how the lady is willing, agree in letting Liza keep the child for $25,000.
Although simply a movie more for amusement than logic, it's sometimes hard accepting the Dietrich character being so naive. It's a wonder she wasn't arrested for taking the infant without learning the circumstances of its abandonment. Possibly the screenplay should have gone through the cliché channels of having her suddenly acquiring the infant from a recently deceased relative or close friend of the theater. Either way would have proved more acceptable for the viewer. Though Dietrich had already played a mother earlier in BLONDE VENUS (Paramount, 1932), parenting was nothing new to her at this point. Her Elizabeth Madden, portrayed as a little eccentric and at one point advised to see a psychiatrist, may be a little out of her character range, though being a musical comedy star fits Dietrich to perfection. Similar circumstances for a woman like Dietrich being past 40 would have been better suited for an actress in the younger age range as Lana Turner or a Rita Hayworth. Dietrich's stubbornness and fiery temper, however, comes as a reminder of Mexican spitfire Lupe Velez. She gets some laughs in her favor as being one with a reputation for wearing screwy hats, though she's a fashion model here through her assortment of fur coats and jewelry.
Taken from an original story by John Edward Grant, areas of THE LADY IS WILLING seems to have been inspired by the witty comedy of BACHELOR MOTHER (RKO Radio, 1939) starring Ginger Rogers as a department store worker who takes in a baby found on a doorstep. With BACHELOR MOTHER being straightforward comedy, THE LADY IS WILLING is a mild blend of comedy-drama. Though the comedy angle is much more preferable, the dramatic portion is fortunately handled well without becoming disastrous. Two staged interludes to a song, "I Find Love" (by Jack King and Gordon Clifford) sung by Dietrich, are showcased, with Roger Clark acting as her dancing partner. Others members of the cast include: Marietta Canty (Mary Lou, the maid); Ruth Ford (Myrtle Gusselman, a Swedish maid actually from the Bronx); Eddie Acuff (Officer Murphy); Harry Shannon (Detective Sergeant Barnes); and Harvey Stephens (Doctor Golding). Though some sources credit Sterling Holloway in the movie as Arthur Miggle, his scenes are not visible in the final print.
Distributed to home video in 1994, THE LADY IS WILLING has turned up occasionally on TV Turner Classic Movies cable channel since August 9, 2008. Though an unlikely pair, the contrasting screen personalities of Dietrich and MacMurray do compliment each other, surely making this overlooked comedy, whenever shown on TV, a pleasing 90 minute experience for any classic movie lover. (***)
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