Mill Creek Musings: The Lady Says No (1951)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Dorinda Hatch (Joan Caulfield) has written a best-selling book. But this book is no soapy melodrama or pulpy paperback. It’s an advice book titled The Lady Says No, in which Dorinda attempts to convince the women of America that men are both dangerous and completely unworthy of their attention.

Bill Shelby (David Niven) is a photographer for LIFE Magazine. He’s been sent to Dorinda’s town to do a story about her.

Little does Bill know, Dorinda is no old maid, but simply a beautiful young woman with strong opinions about romantic relationships. He becomes convinced that she didn’t write the book at all. Their personalities clash, and complications ensue as Bill both tries to finish his story and tries to woo the resistant Dorinda.

Frank Ross directs 1951’s The Lady Says No, which was written by Robert Russell (The More the Merrier, Come September). This was Ross’s only film as director. He is most well-known for producing such films as The Robe and The Devil and Miss Jones.

The Lady Says No is an interesting little film. It attempts to explore Dorinda’s background and what may have shaped her opinions about love by introducing a smarmy uncle character. Uncle Matt (James Robertson Justice), as he is known, has obviously mistreated Dorinda’s beloved aunt (Frances Bavier) by disappearing for long periods of time and generally acting selfish.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The film never fully commits to this angle, though, instead ignoring the potential for deeper character development and replacing it with simple, romantic fluff and comedy. Even Uncle Matt’s flaws are forgiven as he moves in with Dorinda and her aunt and integrates himself back into their lives much more easily than expected. None of tension that should exist between them after he’s been gone for so long is anywhere to be found.

Though the film is confused about what it wants to be, it’s still a highly enjoyable watch.

A solid performance is given by David Niven, though he seems a bit out of place. Someone more dapper and smarmy would have been better-suited for the role. After all, about half an hour into the film Bill uses blackmail in order to steal a smooch from Dorinda. If this film was made in the ’30s rather than the early ’50s, that would totally be a Warren William move.

Dorinda's dream world is one reminiscent of an adventure film. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Dorinda’s dream world is one reminiscent of an adventure film. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

It is the far-lesser-known Joan Caulfield who truly carries the film. Knowing that she was married to director Frank Ross when this film was released, I knew it was possible that she could have been cast based on her connection to Ross rather than her talent.

I was incredibly surprised by her, though. This is a light and often silly film, but she manages to bring plenty of dimension to the character of Dorinda, playing her as a complex and sometimes conflicted woman. The character has a great element of quirkiness, which allows Caulfield to go a little bit over-the-top on occasion while remaining believable in her character.

The Lady Says No breaks no new ground in terms of story. It is a fairly standard romance, and its potential for serious character exploration is wasted. But it’s a fun watch, worthwhile especially for Joan Caulfield’s leading performance. Tiny bonus points for a kooky, corny dream sequence! The score: 3.5/5

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