Leonard Maltin-Austin Film Festival-485

I just returned from Austin, Texas, where I had the pleasure of presenting Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day (1933) to an enthusiastic audience at the historic Paramount Theatre, as part of its annual Summer Film Classics series. The evening was made even nicer for me by my old friend Louis Black, editor and co-publisher of the Austin Chronicle, who brought me onstage with a beautiful introduction. Then film programmer Stephen Jannise, who interviewed me after the picture, as we both fought back tears from watching the final scene of Capra’s beautiful movie.

What impressed me most was how perfectly Capra’s finely-tuned picture still worked with an audience, eliciting every laugh that was built into it—from a sardonic reaction by Ned Sparks to a climactic cutaway of stoic butler Halliwell Hobbes. Capra loved those character actors and knew his audience, which hasn’t changed as much as some people might think in the 90 years since this film was made. (I witnessed the same response when I showed his State of the Union to my class of 20-somethings at USC.) The only gag that fell flat all night was when Sparks whistled “The Prisoner’s Song” as a response to one of Warren William’s ideas (“If I had the wings of an angel/Over these prison walls I would fly…”). Those lyrics would have been familiar to every moviegoer of 1933, which is no longer the case.

Lady for a Day Poster

Because it was withdrawn from circulation for decades, so as not to compete with Capra’s own remake, Pocketful of Miracles (1961), Lady for a Day has yet to take its rightful place among the great American movies. It was certainly appreciated in its time, earning four Academy Award nominations, just one year before Capra and his screenwriting colleague Robert Riskin swept the Oscars with It Happened One Night.

Stephen Jannise does a wonderful job booking vintage films at the Paramount—everything from Charlie Chaplin to The Wild Bunch—and he writes excellent program notes for each screening. He and his projectionist John do their best to screen everything in 35mm, with old-fashioned reel changeovers. (When I took a tour of the projection booth John Stewart proudly pointed to a platter machine that’s never been used.)

35mm print of "Casablanca"
Yes, that’s a 35mm print of "Casablanca" in the projection booth at the Paramount

Several hundred people turned out on Friday and, to my amazement, they stayed for my q&a after the film. I met a number of them in the lobby afterward, including parents who had heard me on the local news station KUT that afternoon and decided to bring their 11-year-old daughter and give her a new and different experience than she was accustomed to. She told me she loved Lady for a Day and the experience of seeing it with an audience on a theater screen. She doesn’t know it, but that youngster made my day.

You can check the Paramount’s summer schedule HERE.  

To read my conversation with Louis Black about our boyhood moviegoing adventures, click HERE.