Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

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Harold Aherne

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Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostFri Dec 10, 2010 4:31 am

Various sources online have claimed that A Lady of Chance originally had one or more talking sequences. I don't know where the story got started, whether from a TCM introduction or from pure speculation, but some of the evidence I've seen from 1928-29 doesn't bear that out.

Over at the Silent Comedy Mafia forum, Rob Farr was kind enough to post the May 1929 release charts from Motion Picture News (see this link; the MGM chart is on pages 3 and 2). A Lady of Chance has *no* symbols by it--nothing for music, sound effects or "voice", suggesting that it may have been sent out as a completely silent film. Furthermore, the NYT review says nothing about even a recorded score, much less talking sequences.

Now, either or both of these could be mistaken. But the TCM print of the film certainly seems complete; there are no places that seem to be missing anything. Can anyone shed more light on this matter?

-Harold
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 7:31 am

Gavin Lambert's biography of Shearer describes it as her last silent, but in the sense that Norma herself did not speak in it - the implication being that others did. Likewise, some sources list `The Trial of Mary Dugan' as Norma's first `speaking' role, as opposed to her first appearance in a sound film.

I guess it's possible that they added a similar sort of minimalist soundtrack (music, sfx, plus a few murmurs and cheers that barely count as dialogue) to the one employed for `Our Dancing Daughters' a few months previously.

There was a discussion on these boards a while back about the chronology of the introduction of sound at MGM - the only thing we all agreed on is that specific details are surprisingly scant. I wonder if this sort of thing is recorded in the Eddie Mannix ledger? I'd be very interested to know more.
Last edited by Brooksie on Fri Dec 10, 2010 6:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 8:35 am

Part of the difficulty may lie in the difference between premiere dates and general release dates. The Trail of '98, for instance, premiered at the Astor in NY on 20 March '28 but didn't go into general release until the following January (I suspect that it was silent for its initial engagements and had the score added for general release). The Viking premiered in NY on 28 Nov. '28 but didn't have its wide release for another year.

Here are the MGM features listed in the MPN chart arranged chronologically by release date or premiere date (in blue) if I know it offhand, along with its sound format:

20 Mar. 1928: The Trail of ’98 (score) (5-1-29, general)
31 Jul. 1928: White Shadows in the South Seas (score + voice) (10-11-28, general)
06 Oct. 1928: Shadows of the Night (silent)
13 Oct. 1928: Brotherly Love (score)
20 Oct. 1928: Show People (score)
27 Oct. 1928: The Wind (score)
03 Nov. 1928: The Baby Cyclone (score)
15 Nov. 1928: Alias Jimmy Valentine (score + voice) (26-1-29, general)
17 Nov. 1928: The Bushranger (silent)
17 Nov. 1928: Masks of the Devil (silent)
24 Nov. 1928: West of Zanzibar (silent)
01 Dec. 1928: Dream of Love (silent)
15 Dec. 1928: A Woman of Affairs (score)
22 Dec. 1928: A Lady of Chance (silent)
29 Dec. 1928: Honeymoon (silent)
05 Jan. 1929: Morgan’s Last Raid (silent)
12 Jan. 1929: A Single Man (silent)
19 Jan. 1929: The Flying Fleet (score)
23 Jan. 1929: The Bellamy Trial (score + voice) (2-3-29, general)
01 Feb. 1929: The Broadway Melody (all-talking) (1-4-29, general)
09 Feb. 1929: All at Sea (silent)
23 Feb. 1929: Wild Orchids (score)
02 Mar. 1929: The Overland Telegraph (silent)
09 Mar. 1929: Desert Nights (score)
16 Mar. 1929: The Duke Steps Out (score + voice)
23 Mar. 1929: Tide of Empire (score)
23 Mar. 1929: The Great Power (all-talking) (20-4-29, general)
24 Mar. 1929: Spite Marriage (score + voice) (6-4-29, general)
30 Mar. 1929: The Bridge of San Luis Rey (score + voice)
13 Apr. 1929: Voice of the City (all-talking)
27 Apr. 1929: The Pagan (score + voice)
04 May 1929: Where East is East (score + voice)
11 May 1929: The Desert Rider (silent)
18 May 1929: China Bound (silent)
25 May 1929: A Man’s Man (silent)

The sound format data is only as accurate as what MPN sez, obviously [addendum: and oddly, they left out the Tim McCoy Western Sioux Blood, released 20-4-29].

-Harold
Last edited by Harold Aherne on Fri Dec 10, 2010 9:21 am, edited 3 times in total.
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 8:48 am

I believe the Eyman book on the coming of sound lists the William Haines film, Alias Jimmy Valentine as MGM's first film to have talking sequences (as opposed to music, sound effects, crowd noise). It was goat glanded after it had been completed as a silent. MGM did this because the all-silent films released in 1928 were underperforming. Films with any kind of sound were doing well. Alias Jimmy Valentine grossed over $1M....
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A Lady of Chance

PostFri Dec 10, 2010 8:58 am

There's an original press book for A Lady of Chance held by the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. (Full disclosure: I happen to work there.) The pressbook includes a number of puff-piece articles written by the MGM publicity department, offered to help exploit the movie. One typical piece is headlined "Star Wears Gowns She Had Created in Paris" and is focused on Norma Shearer's outfits, which, we're told, were custom made for her during a recent European trip.

Okay, to cut to the chase: each one of these articles has a line within it, in boldface, announcing that A Lady of Chance will be opening soon at [name of theatre] with sound synchronization. But at the top of every one of the pieces is a line, also in boldface, reading IMPORTANT--Delete reference to sound synchronization in this article if theatre is not equipped. There are no references to speech or talking, so I'm assuming they're referring to music and minimal SFX, as in Spite Marriage and other MGM releases of the period.

Incidentally, the press book also offers several pages of one- two- and three-column ads for the film, and some of them say "The Great Star's First SOUND Film!" But, again, there are no references to speech or talking, so these ads appear to be somewhat misleading. At the time, however, I would bet that sophisticated moviegoers knew what to expect when phrases like "All Talking!" or "She Talks!" were absent.
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 11:36 am

Harold - in the book "Films of Norma Shearer" by Jack Jacobs/Myron Braum, on page 152, it dicusses "A Lady of Chance"

CREDITS: Director: Hobart Henley. Story and dialogue: John Lee Meehan (Talking sequences).

running time was 8 reels, and released Dec.1, 1928

The two reviews quoted, "NY Times" of Jan.14, 1929 and "Variety" of Jan.16, 1929, neither makes any mention of sound or dialogue
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 11:45 am

also just checked the Feb.1929 issue of "Photoplay" and on page 76 it is reviewed, but in the "Silent Releases" grouping, not the "Sound Pictures' section
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 11:47 am

Harold,

Thanks for the great list. I knew that THE VIKING was a 1928 film and not 1929. Apparently, another of these deals like THE GODLESS GIRL where they went back and added the synchronized music and effects tracks later on. The entry for WEST OF ZANZIBAR is incorrect, because it did have a recorded score as we have seen on TCM and Laser-disc.

Incidentally, there is a still that shows Norma Shearer from A LADY OF CHANCE on the beach in a bathing suit, with Johnny Mack Brown. It is even on a poster for the film. Was this sequence cut, or could it be missing from the Silent version? Or is this another mystery?
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 11:58 am

In Crofton's book on talkies, page 175, he mentions "Some other examples of part-talkies released in 1928 ... MGM's Alias Jimmy Valentine and A Lady of Chance."
Last edited by drednm on Fri Dec 10, 2010 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 12:36 pm

VARIETY categorizes A LADY OF CHANCE as SOUND rather than DIALOG and says:

"Spence has made his titles as crisp as possible [...]"

and

"Film has a theme song which doesn't listen tuneful enough to be important. Synchronized score has been well handled."

No mention of spoken dialogue at all.
Their reviewer Sid. saw the film at the Capitol in New York on 12 January 1929.
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 12:55 pm

In looking over more of the MPN chart, some other films also seem to be inaccurately classified; both Chinatown Nights and The Canary Murder Case are said to be all-talking when I'm pretty sure that both are part. Anyway, it looks like A Lady of Chance indeed had a sync score available for its release, but I remain a bit sceptical about talking sequences.

-Harold
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 12:57 pm

Ardnt,

That should prove that at least some prints had a recorded score. In a side bar, what is the impression of Christopher Caliendo's music for this film? Personally, I think it is his best work. I haven't been really wild about his other Silent film scores. Especially, LUCKY STAR which is just plain God-Awful! Makes me wonder how he could have slipped so badly from what was such a great first effort? Caliendo's score for FOUR SONS leaves me cold, because I was so used to the spectacular Erno Rapee-Lew Pollack Movie-tone track. THE IRON HORSE is actually pretty good. But I just prefer the John Lanchbery score from the Photoplay version. Comments?
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 1:04 pm

If Norma Shearer had actual talking sequences in this film, I'm sure it would have been widely advertised....
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 1:54 pm

the plot thickens....

in the book "Sound Films, 1927-1939" A United States Filmography by Alan G. fetrow on page 342

"Part-talkie melodrama of a woman operating a "badger game." released in 1928 as a silent, with a '29 re-release with some dialogue"

but I agree with others here, if this was Norma's first talkie, surely reviewers would be 'talking' that up
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 2:14 pm

For Shearer, traditionally, The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and The Trial of Mary Dugan are considered her first talkie appearance and first starring talkie.

But it's had to track the silents and goat glands from '28 and '29 because of various releases and re-releases. For some, the talkie versions were released only to big cities while the sticks got the silent versions. Others had complete re-releases well after the silent debuts. Talk about confusing.

Then some had total silent releases as well as total talkie releases......
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PostFri Dec 10, 2010 2:40 pm

this is from the Shearer bio, by Gavin Lambert, on page 121

"Immediately after finishing "A Lady of Chance" she made an appointment with the dept. head Prof. W.R.MacDonald and arrived at his office with an M-G-M publicity man and a photographer. Then she spoke into a microphone attached to a recording apparatus, operated by the professor and the dean of the university.
Their subsequent analysis found Norma's voice "dynophonic" or ideal for talkies, medium in pitch, fluent, with a flexible Canadian accent that was not quite American, but not at all "foreign" The studio widely publicized the news, and actresses eager to succeed in talkies began trying to speak like Norma. Colleen Moore remembered going to several parties where they practiced the Shearer intonation on each other"

the bio makes no mention of a part-talkie re-release

but in "From Silents to Sound" by Roy Liebman, in his list of Norma's silents, he says

"Last silent: The Actress - 1928"

Sound: The part-talkie "A Lady of Chance" was Shearer's first. All her 1929 films were sound, including her very successful first all-talkie "The Trial of Mary Dugan"

I checked reviews in all the 1929 issues of Photoplay, and there is no mention of A Lady of Chance re-release, but perhaps they didn't do re-releases. As I mentioned above, "A Lady of Chance" was reviewed in the Feb. issue. In the June issue, Photoplay reviewed "The Trial of Mary Dugan" and began with this

"Norma Shearer's highly successful talkie debut - "

the balance of that years' reviews were 90% talkies, so if a re-release occurred, it would only make sense between Feb. and June, because at that point, who'd want to see a part-talkie of Norma, now that she was in an all-talkie. "Last of Mrs. Chaney" an all-talkie, was also released at the end of that year
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PostSat Dec 11, 2010 7:48 am

I've been scouring the newspaper archive sites - `A Lady of Chance' seems to have arrived in Australia in mid 1929, and I have not found a single reference even to a recorded musical accompaniment. One advertisement specifically (even somewhat defiantly) describes it as silent, and another even mentions the orchestra that would be accompanying it.

Magazines at the time indicated there was a public backlash against recorded sound accompaniments (why settle for a tinny reproduction when you could have a live orchestra - a fair argument), so it's possible that a synchronised soundtrack existed but was either not shipped or not used in that market.

Gagman 66 wrote:Incidentally, there is a still that shows Norma Shearer from A LADY OF CHANCE on the beach in a bathing suit, with Johnny Mack Brown. It is even on a poster for the film. Was this sequence cut, or could it be missing from the Silent version? Or is this another mystery?


According to the Lambert biography, this scene was cut from the film.
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PostSun Dec 12, 2010 4:10 am

I looked up Frederick James Smith's review of A LADY OF CHANCE in Liberty (January 26, 1929) and he doesn't mention sound and/or dialog in the film either -- something he usually did in his reviews during 1927-29. In certain cases (e.g., THE GODLESS GIRL, SHOW GIRL, 4 DEVILS), he even mentions that sound and/or dialog would be added later.

In reading over this thread, I wonder if A LADY OF CHANCE premiered on the coasts with a synchronized score, and when the results proved to be less than spectacular, was shipped into general release as an unadulterated silent film. Something similar happened with the Garbo-Gilbert film LOVE; it premiered in New York with a tragic ending, and (probably for similar reasons) was eventually shipped to the rest of the country with a "happy" ending.

Gagman 66 wrote:That should prove that at least some prints had a recorded score. In a side bar, what is the impression of Christopher Caliendo's music for this film? Personally, I think it is his best work. I haven't been really wild about his other Silent film scores. Especially, LUCKY STAR which is just plain God-Awful! Makes me wonder how he could have slipped so badly from what was such a great first effort? Caliendo's score for FOUR SONS leaves me cold, because I was so used to the spectacular Erno Rapee-Lew Pollack Movie-tone track. THE IRON HORSE is actually pretty good. But I just prefer the John Lanchbery score from the Photoplay version. Comments?


I have the Warner Archive DVD, and Christopher Caliendo's score is indeed terrific. I may be in the minority here, but I like his score for LUCKY STAR even more. It is just as atmospheric as the film itself, sprightly and emotional, and really pulled me in.

I saw FOUR SONS for the first time with the Caliendo score, which was good. But recently I got to see the film with its Movietone soundtrack, and now I can't imagine it any other way. In pure storytelling terms, FOUR SONS is wedded to its soundtrack, and I don't know why Fox didn't move heaven and earth to release it that way. Rights problems, I suppose.
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostSat Dec 13, 2014 2:31 am

The theme song featured in "A Lady of Chance" was "Driftwood"

I found this article from 1929 which talks about the Synchronized Score and Theme Song:

http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2011 ... 201130.pdf" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank


Here is Abe Lyman's recording of the theme song:

https://archive.org/download/AbeLymanCo ... eLyman.mp3

Here is a George Olsen's recording of the theme song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahELSRIweC8" target="_blank" target="_blank


Apparently sheet music was also issued tying the song to the film. See here:
https://www.library.yorku.ca/find/Record/3268247" target="_blank

"Just A Little Bit o' Driftwood : the song feature of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture A Lady of Chance starring Norma Shearer with ukulele arrangement / by Benny Davis, Dohl Davis and Abe Lyman."
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostMon Dec 15, 2014 12:51 pm

Yes, Chinatown Nights was a part-talkie. It was screened at Cinecon in 2005 and I thought it was terrible...

CHINATOWN NIGHTS (1929) This part-talkie was a curiosity, and a frustrating film. Completed as a silent, sound shots were inserted later. Unlike other part-talkies where the story stops for a few sound scenes, the sound was either post-dubbed, or it is integrated between silent shots. This really throws the pacing of the film off, since a shot that is a little fast because it was shot at 20 or 22 fps is followed by a natural-looking 24 fps sound shot. This film must be one of the most politically incorrect movies ever made (this side of GOLDEN DAWN). Besides featuring a stereotypical Tong war between Chinese gangs, one gang has a white leader, the really mean Wallace Beery. Beery slaps Florence Vidor and she likes it! The film makes fun of reporter Jack Oakie's stutter. The first five minutes is actually quite good, as tourists slumming in Chinatown are treated to fake scenes of Chinese life. (*)
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostMon Dec 15, 2014 3:19 pm

"Chinatown Nights" is technically All Talking and was released as such. To be a part-talkie some dialogue would have had to have been inaudible with title cards stating what was said. Instead of that, dialogue is dubbed into the picture on those portions shot silent and presented along with footage actually recorded at sound speed. In some sequences that were shot silent where no one is speaking music plays as if it were a silent film and make confuse people to think it is a part-talkie.

I have enjoyed watching "Chinatown Nights" several times. It is available in the grey market. It is very interesting watching Wallace Berry play in a romantic role.

Apparently, Florence Vidor refused to reshoot her sequences in sound and so they had to use the silent segments already shot and have someone else dub her lines. The same thing happened with "Canary Murder Case", this time with Louise Brooks, and that is likewise an All Talking picture.

Here is a page from the Film Daily and a Ad for the film that state "All-Talking"
Image

Image


silentfilm wrote:Yes, Chinatown Nights was a part-talkie. It was screened at Cinecon in 2005 and I thought it was terrible...

CHINATOWN NIGHTS (1929) This part-talkie was a curiosity, and a frustrating film. Completed as a silent, sound shots were inserted later. Unlike other part-talkies where the story stops for a few sound scenes, the sound was either post-dubbed, or it is integrated between silent shots. This really throws the pacing of the film off, since a shot that is a little fast because it was shot at 20 or 22 fps is followed by a natural-looking 24 fps sound shot. This film must be one of the most politically incorrect movies ever made (this side of GOLDEN DAWN). Besides featuring a stereotypical Tong war between Chinese gangs, one gang has a white leader, the really mean Wallace Beery. Beery slaps Florence Vidor and she likes it! The film makes fun of reporter Jack Oakie's stutter. The first five minutes is actually quite good, as tourists slumming in Chinatown are treated to fake scenes of Chinese life. (*)
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostMon Dec 15, 2014 5:37 pm

Variety's Review for "A Lady Of Chance" where it is described as a Sound film with a Synchronized score.

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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostThu Dec 18, 2014 9:21 am

It appears that it was soundtrack only, just like THE FOUR SONS, since nothing is mentioned about any of the stars' speaking voices or how they performed dialogue.
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostSun Dec 21, 2014 1:39 pm

I am trying unsuccessfully to upload two stills that show the players rehearsing the last scenes, each one with the script in their hands. These pieces of papers seems so important to the actors that you could think they are reading their lines in them, more typically for a sequence with a dialogue that a silent one. By the way, in this case the director is Sam Wood, not the later credited Robert Z. Leonard.

Sorry but my proofs are too big and I don't know how to make them acceptable for the server :wink:
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostSun Dec 21, 2014 5:03 pm

The Variety reviewer uses the word "flossies" to refer to female audience members a couple times. Anyone know what is meant by this?
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostWed Dec 24, 2014 2:33 pm

Lostintime wrote:I am trying unsuccessfully to upload two stills that show the players rehearsing the last scenes, each one with the script in their hands. These pieces of papers seems so important to the actors that you could think they are reading their lines in them, more typically for a sequence with a dialogue that a silent one. By the way, in this case the director is Sam Wood, not the later credited Robert Z. Leonard.

Sorry but my proofs are too big and I don't know how to make them acceptable for the server :wink:


You will have to upload them to a photo sharing website, and then use the "img" tag to display them here.
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostTue Nov 10, 2015 5:12 pm

pathe16mm wrote:The Variety reviewer uses the word "flossies" to refer to female audience members a couple times. Anyone know what is meant by this?


Some context:

“You see, in Vienna, every other—well, chorus girl I suppose you’d call them—is named Mizzi. Like all the Gladyses and Flossies here in America,” (Novel Fanny Herself, by Edna Ferber, 1917).

“How she could burn up the four-flushing Flossies whose idea of Service was to organize a Small Dance and invite all the snappy-eyed Aviators!” (from article “New Fables in Slang,” Cosmopolitan, Vol. 65, p. 90, 1918).

"Numbers of us seem to spend our lives in trying to live up to our baptismal heritage or else trying to live it down. In a frivolous age we expect to find a great number of Florries and Flossies and we are not disappointed," (periodical To-Day, Vol. I, p. 217, 1917).

“‘FLOSSIES’ HURT COLLEGE. Austin, Texas, Feb. 15.—There are about 200 male and female ‘flossies’ who come to the University of Texas solely for a good time […]” (periodical The ATO Palm, Vol. 42, p. 24, 1922).

One thus gathers that a "flossie" would be a young person, of somewhat questionable repute, and usually but not necessarily of the female sort, whose main interest was in partying and having a perhaps not entirely enlightened good time. Imagine that!
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Re:

PostWed Nov 11, 2015 6:18 am

Brooksie wrote:I've been scouring the newspaper archive sites - `A Lady of Chance' seems to have arrived in Australia in mid 1929, and I have not found a single reference even to a recorded musical accompaniment. One advertisement specifically (even somewhat defiantly) describes it as silent, and another even mentions the orchestra that would be accompanying it.

Magazines at the time indicated there was a public backlash against recorded sound accompaniments (why settle for a tinny reproduction when you could have a live orchestra - a fair argument), so it's possible that a synchronised soundtrack existed but was either not shipped or not used in that market.

Gagman 66 wrote:Incidentally, there is a still that shows Norma Shearer from A LADY OF CHANCE on the beach in a bathing suit, with Johnny Mack Brown. It is even on a poster for the film. Was this sequence cut, or could it be missing from the Silent version? Or is this another mystery?


According to the Lambert biography, this scene was cut from the film.


They cut that but kept in Ralph Spence's witty jokes as our heroes offensively insult black people.... I wish we could magically trade the footage...
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostSat Nov 21, 2015 1:30 am

Tried to find the sound bites but instead had to sit thru a racket girl .... just a plain bad insulting movie.
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Re: Question on A LADY OF CHANCE

PostFri Sep 22, 2017 4:38 pm

The original Vitaphone soundtrack for "A Lady Of Chance" has apparently been found according to the
Vitaphone Project website:

http://www.picking.com/vitaphone-database.html
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