The Lady in Question

Gasser

The Lady in Question (1940)

     The Lady in Question is certainly a unique story, although one that sings in large part because of its main character while all others play second fiddle. Brian Aherne –who with mustache and bushy eyebrows looks nothing like his visage in the poster for this movie– steals the show as the most purely kind, middle-aged man ever to put himself in the situation that encompasses the plot.

     Aherne plays Andre Morestan, a sporting goods shop owner in France who is one of the few people in the country eager to serve out a jury duty sentence. This married man with two teenage children sits through a case of a woman who shot her lover to death. This Natalie Roguin (Rita Hayworth) says she was defending herself against a man who had threatened her life after some time of paying for her living. The prosecutor says the woman blackmailed her lover into stealing from his father to pay for her lifestyle.

     In a scene that could have taken the movie in a 12 Angry Men direction, most of the jury wants to convict Natalie, but Andre stands in abject disagreement. With one man sneezing his germs throughout the room and another with a new wife waiting for him, Andre succeeds in standing his ground and drawing all others to his side.

     Upon the acquittal, the man leaves his contact information with Natalie’s attorney, saying he wants to help her in any way she might need. The woman does eventually call him and is need of both a job and a place to stay. No one will hire her despite the court’s erasing a murderess label, so Andre takes her into his shop and home, renaming her Jean and calling her the daughter of an old college friend who is spending some time in Africa.

     Andre’s wife Michele (Irene Rich) is instantly suspicious and might worry her husband has brought this pretty young thing in as a mistress, but even more stunned is their son Pierre –played by a young Glenn Ford– who secretly attended the trial and recognizes Natalie. Nevertheless, young Pierre starts to fall for the woman, who is clearly kind at heart. Meanwhile, the young woman’s identity becomes a problem every time a fellow juror, Mr. Lurette (Curt Bois), stops by to talk about how he thinks they got the verdict wrong.

     Andre is comically cruel in his dismissal of the man, but when it appears his son is about to run off with Natalie and take the contents of the store cash box with him, he concludes that perhaps the woman is guilty.

     Aherne, the Brit who often played handsome charmers, is a hoot as the middle-aged father who is too innocent to see how unsavory it looks to take into his home the acquitted murderer whom he helped to free. The man proves he is too kind to others for his own good through a running joke involving a stout man who repeatedly enters the shop to exchange a tandem bike for a single –and vice versa– because his fiancées keep leaving him. Michele insists a used bike can only be exchanged for an upcharge, but Andre feels sorry and happy for the man as his romantic circumstances change and gives the bikes away without the fee.

     The other characters all add to the story, Bois especially as the timid accountant who is on and off “at liberty” (aka unemployed) and analyzes the case with a mathematical mind. Rich does well as the responsible but suspicious wife, Ford as the uptight son whose bravado is chipped away by Natalie’s kindness, and Evelyn Keyes as the love-struck daughter who wants to marry the neighboring dance instructor and literally skips around the house in her twitterpated haze. Hayworth in this role is nothing to write home about. She speaks softly and affects a sad look most of the time. She is lovely but no seductress (as the poster would suggest) as she would later be with Ford in Gilda.

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