The Lady in Question (1940)
At the thirty-eight minute mark of this charming comedy comes a scene of pure cinema magic. It’s when Glenn Ford with a look of wonderment on his face first meets Rita Hayworth and the smile she unleashes upon him is captivating. This is the first scene the duo share together in careers that would culminate in five films opposite each other including a bona fide classic with Gilda.
Both stars were at this time apprenticing under the Columbia Studios banner and are billed here under leading man Brian Aherne.
Aherne begins the film cast as a kindly shop keeper married to Irene Rich. His generosity knows no bounds and he soon finds himself quite excited to be called upon for jury duty. On trial is lovely Rita. She’s been accused of killing her lover. The spoiled son of a wealthy man. Sitting beside Aherne on the jury is Curt Bois. Aherne and Bois carry much of this films charm as they constantly bicker and try to outdo the other in the eyes of the judicial system.
Once Rita is acquitted she has no where to turn and few prospects. Aherne takes it upon himself to bring her into his home and give her a job in the store. All this without his wife Irene knowing her true identity as she’s been branded a scarlet woman. Young Glenn isn’t fooled and though somewhat scared of her he can’t stop himself from falling under her spell. Who can blame him. Although in black and white from director Charles Vidor, Rita is absolutely stunning here at the age of 22.
Meanwhile Aherne is digging a deep whole as his lies about Rita’s past continue to grow. Soon he’ll have to deal with them and his judgemental wife when the whistle is blown.
There’s plenty of love in the air in this light engaging film. Aherne and Rich make for a splendid “old world” couple raising Ford and their younger daughter Evelyn Keyes. Ford is bewitched by Rita and Keyes is attracted to the boy next door who the worldly wise Aherne sees him for what he is. A shark looking for a fast dowry.
There is also a wonderful scene containing much warmth where Rich without saying much knows she has married a caring man who is compassionate to those in need.
For the Glenn and Rita fans it’s a wonderful window to their early years and a chance to see a bit of that screen chemistry that they would build upon after WW2 and the release of Gilda in 1946. Their subsequent films would be The Loves of Carmen, Affair in Trinidad and the later film The Money Trap in 1966.
Aside from one setback later in the film which seemed to far out of character for Aherne I found this much better than I recall. I haven’t seen it since I was a young wanna be film buff on the late show many years ago. Thankfully it turned up in a set of Glenn Ford films from a TCM Vault collection that I was happy to find dedicated to Ford who far too often has been forgotten like so many of his contemporaries in the mainstream of movies.
Glenn was actually one of my earliest favorites looking back because like many of the fifties leading men, he played a variety of genres that appealed to me while catching all these films on TV at a young age. He had a carefree persona with a rough edge to it when called upon. Mostly in his westerns.
Give this one a look should you find the opportunity and smile at Aherne, get a kick out of a young Ford and find yourself captivated by the beauty of Rita.