Plot: June (Betty Compson) is a beautiful young woman in a rather desperate situation, with great financial pressures, but few options to turn to. As such, she has decided to put herself on the market and raise some cash on the street, though she quickly draws the attention of the local police patrol. The cops pursue her and when she tries to hide on a doorstep, the door swings open and the man inside insists he knows her, which gets the police to back off. The man is Gerald (Gilbert Emery), a kind person who not only covers for her, but invites her inside for dinner and reveals his own problems to her. As it turns out, his son was supposed to be at the dinner, but his new love interest keeps him too distracted these days. Gerald believes her to be a gold digger and he sees a chance for June to help him out, not to mention earn some much needed cash. But will Gerald’s wild plan have a chance to work and when people start falling in love, how will emotions impact the plot?
Entertainment Value: You can tell this one is pre-code, what with a hooker with a heart of gold as our lead and all. The narrative here is fine, if not that memorable, but I do appreciate how well developed and sympathetic June is. The movie doesn’t hide what she’s putting on the market, but it doesn’t judge her and as evidenced by their actions, neither do most of the other characters. The message seems pretty clear in The Lady Refuses, just because someone has money or social status, doesn’t mean they’re better than those in dire situations like June. I think there’s a lot to like with this pre-code melodrama, but it doesn’t rise above middle of the pack, despite having all the potential in the world. I would’ve liked to see more bite in there somewhere or some twists thrown in to elevate the material, as it all of the elements here are solid, but don’t push past that into greatness. Even so, it is a well made and fun to watch movie, one that moves at a brisk pace and some real pre-code sizzle at times.
At the center of The Lady Refuses are some good performances, including our lead, Betty Compson. She turns in a solid, very likable performance and she’s able to convey a lot, thanks to some fleshed out character work in the script. I like how she feels like a fully formed character here, rather than a simple stereotype. Not to say this is a deep, intense character study, but Compson is given a decent amount of depth to work with and she makes good use of that. We’ve seen this archetype before of course and many times after, but she rises above the expectations and delivers a really good effort here, one of the film’s strongest points. It is no wonder people fall for June left and right, as Compson’s turn makes her so likable. Gilbert Emery and John Darrow are quite good too, though not given quite as good of material as Compson. The two provide enjoyable efforts however, without a doubt. The cast also includes Daphne Pollard, Margaret Livingston, and Edgar Norton.