Directed by William A. Seiter
Written by Robert Ardrey & Jo Swerling
Back when I reviewed The Cowboy and the Lady, I made much ado about the film not truly being a Western, but still happy I included it because it was a fun, very enjoyable film which showcased the talents of Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon. With A Lady Takes a Chance, we get something very similar, but with one distinct difference. After discussion with some after The Cowboy and the Lady, I was forewarned that this film was along the same lines, not truly a western. However, there are three factors that persuaded me to keep it. It still comments on western life, it’s a chance to see the greats John Wayne and Jean Arthur, and I’ll never turn down a chance to watch a good movie.
A Lady Takes a Chance follows an extremely similar narrative to The Cowboy and the Lady. Molly (Jean Arthur) is a city gal with any number of suitors. When she decides to take a Western bus trip on the spur of the moments, all three of her suitors send her off. Along the way to the west from New York, however, Molly finds a cowboy named Duke (John Wayne) literally fall in her lap at the rodeo. The two eventually hit it off, Molly intrigued by the tough western facade Duke puts on, a different experience from her city boys. The two make their way through ups and downs which include Molly stealing Duke’s horses blanket, causing quite the controversy. But is their relationship real, or is Molly just enjoying her time away from the big city?
I don’t ant to harp on the comparison to The Cowboy and the Lady, but the connection is undeniable. Unfortunately, A Lady Takes a Chance isn’t nearly as good. John Wayne is great, but his rendition of tough, somewhat ignorant cowboy is not as charming as Gary Cooper’s. Jean Arthur has been a great discovery in this marathon so far. I loved her in Arizona, but here she feels flat and uninspired, compared to my first exposure to Merle Oberon in The Cowboy and the Lady. That previous film just has so much more going for it, and feels so much more the polished finished product when compared with this film. For all its merits, A Lady Takes a Chance just feels derivative at this point, and it doesn’t have the same high moments as The Cowboy and the Lady.
Now, that doesn’t mean there is nothing to like here, there is plenty. The exchanges between Wayne and Arthur are good fun, including their meet cute scene at the rodeo and subsequent “date” at the saloon. The bit when Molly is mad at Duke, resulting in a game of cat and mouse on the highway, Molly always seemingly one step ahead in the hitchhiking game to get to town is a fun interplay too. I should mention Duke’s sidekick here too, Waco, played by Charles Winninger. Waco is a little bit of a throwaway character, but Winninger plays him with nice gusto as to make a forgettable character at least mildly interesting.
A Lady Takes a Chance just doesn’t quite pop off the screen like I would have liked to have seen from two greats like Wayne and Arthur. It’s perfectly fine, but also perfectly forgettable. There are no signature moments really, nothing to hang your hat on that can easily encapsulate what this film is all about, what it’s going for. It’s a small film, with no delusions of grandeur, so I can’t rag on it too much, it’s adequate for what it does, it just doesn’t do much and as a result is not one of the better films from the marathon thus far, and not one which I would likely look to return to anywhere in the future.