The Lady is Willing (1942)

It’s not unusual for Liza Madden (Marlene Dietrich) to go out shopping and come back with fancy new dresses, hats, or jewelry.  After all, she’s a glamorous actress and she’s got an image to maintain.  Imagine her assistant Buddy’s (Aline MacMahon) surprise when Liza goes out shopping one day and comes back with a baby.  She had found an abandoned baby while she was out and decided on a whim that she wanted to adopt it.  The first thing she does is find out who the best pediatrician in town is and has him come over to check the baby over.  Dr. Corey McBain (Fred MacMurray) comes right over and even though the baby is fine, the doctor corrects her belief that she’s got a baby girl.  She names the baby Corey and is determined to be the best mother she can be.  She buys silk pajamas for him and even has the bar removed from her apartment so it won’t be a bad influence on him.

But however much Liza wants to keep Corey, she has to face the fact that in 1942, nobody was going to let an unmarried woman with lots of debt adopt a baby.  Since she figures it would be easier to find a husband than it would be to get her finances in order, she starts looking for someone willing to marry for platonic reasons.  A solution comes one night when little Corey gets a rash from his silk pajamas and she calls Dr. McBain.  At first, he’s unamused by Liza’s cluelessness about how to care for a baby, but can’t help but be touched by how much she clearly loves that baby.  Liza starts talking to Dr. McBain and finds out that he’d rather be in the research side of medicine, but doesn’t have the money to do it.  She talks him into marrying her so she can adopt Corey and she can let him use part of her apartment to do his research in.

Even though this was intended to be a marriage of convenience, deeper feelings quickly develop and Liza gets jealous when she and Dr. McBain run into his first wife Frances (Arline Judge) and Dr. McBain gets jealous of the leading man in Liza’s show.  All seems to be going well in their marriage, though, and Dr. McBain comes to the rescue one night when two people and their lawyer show up claiming to be Corey’s parents.  They either wanted the baby or $25,000, but they didn’t count on trying to extort money from someone who could easily do a blood test to disprove parentage on the spot.  They go out the next night to celebrate their victory over scammers, but also to celebrate Dr. McBain being granted a $5,000 research grant.  The two of them have a wonderful night and a lot of true feelings are revealed.

But by the next morning, word of Dr. McBain’s grant has hit the newspapers and his ex-wife Frances shows up wanting a piece of it.  Liza is furious when she goes to bring him breakfast and finds Frances in their bedroom.  She locks Dr. McBain in his part of the apartment while she cancels her show and gets ready to take it to Boston immediately.  She won’t even let him come examine Corey when he isn’t feeling well.  Liza has another doctor examine Corey and is told that he only has a cold, so she goes on ahead with her plan to go to Boston.  But once she gets there, it becomes clear that Corey actually is very ill and needs surgery.  The only person she trusts to do the operation is Dr. McBain, so she flies him out to Boston.  When he arrives, she begs for forgiveness and even though he has reservations about operating on Corey, Liza promises to love him no matter what.  Dr. McBain gets to work on Corey and Liza anxiously awaits the results.  When it’s time for Liza to get to the theater for her show, Dr. McBain encourages her to go ahead and do her show.  She can barely keep her mind on the show, but by the time the show is over, Dr. McBain is waiting for her with good news about Corey.

It seems like people either like The Lady is Willing or hate it and I happen to be in the camp that likes it.  This is a rather unusual movie for Marlene Dietrich since she didn’t really do much comedy during her career.  Marlene Dietrich was never going to be another Carole Lombard or Myrna Loy, but The Lady is Willing happens to be the right type of comedy for her style.  I got a kick out of her clueless but well-intended character and it’s fun to see her play with the baby and poke a little fun at her glamorous image.  Watching Fred MacMurray try to see around Dietrich’s extravagant hats definitely made me smile.  Fred MacMurray was pretty charming as well, but I wasn’t feeling much chemistry between him and Dietrich.  I thought the baby and Aline MacMahon had better chemistry with Dietrich than Fred did.  As for the story, it’s pretty fluffy and nonsensical, but at least it’s fun nonsense.  I got a lot of laughs out of it and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual Marlene Dietrich fare.

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One response to “The Lady is Willing (1942)

  1. I recorded this one and I can’t wait to see. My DVR is about to explode! I have to get through it quick to make room for Buster Keaton in October!

    Excellent job with your SUTS blogging.

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