June (Betty Compson) returns to the drab, rain-filled streets whence she came
US / 71 minutes / bw / Radio Dir: George Archainbaud Pr: William LeBaron Scr: Wallace Smith Story: Robert Milton, Guy Bolton Cine: Leo Tover Cast: Betty Compson, John Darrow, Gilbert Emery, Margaret Livingston, Ivan Lebedeff, Edgar Norton, Daphne Pollard, Halliwell Hobbes.
In London, Sir Gerald Courtney (Emery), desperate to get his son Russell (Darrow) out of the clutches of drink and unsubtle gold-digger Berthine Waller (Livingston), hires tyro prostitute June (Compson) to lure him away from Berthine and onto the path of virtue. The plan seems to work well: Russell dumps Berthine, sobers up, stops partying, and starts to do well in his profession of architect. But there are problems, too: although June thinks she and Russell are just good pals, he’s fallen in love with her; meanwhile, June and Sir Gerald have become enamored of each other. When June tells Russell the truth, he has a relapse, finally passing out from drink on her bed. Next morning, Berthine is discovered in Russell’s flat, murdered ‑‑ in fact by her jealous lover and partner-in-crime Nikolai Rabinoff (Lebedeff) ‑‑ and Russell is the cops’ Suspect #1. While Russell, Sir Gerald and the family lawyer Sir James (Hobbes) discuss strategy, June arrives and gives Russell the alibi he craves: he was in her apartment all night. Sir Gerald immediately assumes the worst . . . just the way he’d promised her he would never do.
The movie starts as a light romantic drama/comedy, lurches into more powerful drama and only in the final act ‑‑ with the murder and the exposure of upper-class social hypocrisy ‑‑ does it begin to seem a little more noirish. The ending is very noirish indeed: June, having ripped up the check Sir Gerald gave her for saving Russell, is back on the streets, just where she began; the nihilism is tempered, however, by the knowledge that a thoroughly repentant Sir Gerald has promised he’ll find her wherever she might be.
Although the material might seem promising, the production standards let it down more than a tad. The pacing is noticeably clumsy and laborious; the US principals have difficulty hanging onto their English accents; and Sir Gerald’s such a dreary, whiny old stick that it’s hard to believe June could be drawn to him. Yet Compson’s fine in her role, and some of the cinematography — as in the still at the head of these notes — is nicely evocative.
It’s sometimes claimed this was based on a novel or play called A Lady for Hire, but no such entity appears to exist; most contemporary sources indicate the movie was based on an original screen story by Milton and Bolton. The movie did, however, have A Lady for Hire as one of its working titles, and this may be the root of the confusion.
On Amazon.com: The Lady Refuses (1931)