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Movie Report: Ladies Who Do

Your Humble Blogger happened to—OK, it goes like this: I read the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s Life of the Day, which I heartily recommend, if only for the incredible dry humor in the prose. Lovely, lovely. A few days ago, what came up was a television actor named Harry H. Corbett; in 1963 he appeared in a film I had never heard of called Ladies Who Do. A title that really grabs you. Or grabbed me, anyway, enough for me to look it up and read what it was about. And the idea of the film was so great that I went looking for it, and while it isn’t on either of the subscription services I pay for, it is on YouTube in its entirety. And I watched it, and it was fun. So that’s all right, d’y’see?

OK, the idea of the film that’s so good… Our main character is a widow with two jobs: she cleans offices in the early morning, and during the day she keeps house for an elderly man (well, older man—not an invalid, just the kind of older man who is used to having someone to clean for him and do a bit of cooking in the middle of the day). Mrs. Cragg (for such is her indelibly perfect name) happens to show him (through a plot device) a telegram thrown away by the land speculator in the office complex she cleans for. The Colonel (of course he's a colonel) is a gambler with a taste for day trading and pieces that information together with other things he knows and makes a killing on an investment—puts his house up as surety and clears the equivalent of a hundred thousand dollars in one day.

The two of them take this money and form a syndicate with three of her neighbors who also do for offices in the City. They bring the Colonel waste paper, he sifts through it and puts pieces of information together, and makes a killing. Nobody knows how he is getting his information (he handles the actual investment, the Board of Ladies remaining secret) but he becomes a major player in the City. Soon they are all absurdly wealthy, but keeping their jobs as sources of information.

Time for a plot twist: the first transaction that the telegram was about turns out to have been Ryder taking over a company that owns the block of flats in which the Ladies Who Do all live, and he is going to knock it down and put up offices. Of course, the syndicate suffers a major financial setback just as they need to thwart the plan, so other methods come into play—the movie largely ends with a long set piece on the block with the women and children delaying the workmen until the deus comes out of the machina and everyone can be happy.

Well, I say ends, it ought to have ended there, but we got another scene afterward to the detriment of the movie as a whole… in fact, the whole thing is only nearly-great, and I’m not altogether sure why. The cast were all good, but not perhaps quite good enough; the screenplay (by Michael Pertwee, the brother of Jon Pertwee, who is also good but not perhaps good enough in a supporting role) is funny but not really crisp. The pacing may be the real problem. I’m not sure. But my assessment really is that the idea of the movie is much better than the execution of the movie.

Which to my mind means an opportunity to remake the thing, and do it better.

The problem, alas, is that the main gag is simply not plausible today. People don’t leave inside information unshredded in their rubbish bins. It’s too bad. There are presumably ways to get around it, but part of the fun of the whole thing is that the various speculators don’t suspect the cleaning crew at all and aren’t careful around them because they don’t even see them properly. I suppose it’s just possible that cleaners would overhear things as they work while the traders burn the midnight whatsit trading with Tokyo and Seoul, but another part of the fun of the thing is that the Ladies know nothing about finance whatsoever, at least at the beginning, and have no way of making sense of what they are picking up; they don’t see the men at the desks any more clearly than the people at the desks see the women scrubbing the floor.

Ah, well. The whole plot wouldn’t work. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to cast it.

Wanda Sykes.

Let’s see… if Ms. Sykes is not available, the thing could be written as a vehicle for Whoopie Goldberg, but that would make it a very different movie. I think Wanda Sykes could pull off the comedy of it, and do the arc from not knowing anything about the financial world she scrubs for combined with an utter mistrust of success to becoming a ruthless businesswoman and a match for Ryder or indeed anyone. There are other people who could do the part, of course, but I’m seeing Wanda Sykes.

The three neighbors are complicated. In the original, they are the dimwitted one, the firebrand and the one with the hats, and I’d kinda like to keep that, but of course there’s no particular reason they have to be. They could be the klepto, the hypochondriac and the pregnant one; or the sexpot, the church-goer and the transwoman. The important thing is that they are thoroughly working-class outsiders who could not pass for investors if their lives depended on it. If we keep the original trio, I think the dimwitted one (with the harridan mother brought out as a secret weapon) could be… I have no idea. Tracey Ellis Ross? Tia Carrere? Rosie Perez? Can we borrow Rita Moreno as the harridan mother? Because that would be awesome. Rosie Perez would actually be better as the firebrand (presumably instead of ranting about capitalists, she would rant about the 1%, which works just fine). And as the one with the hats, the matronly conservative one… Marla Gibbs is still working? Damn! She’s perfect. Or, let’s see. Hm. Cassi Davis? Mo’Nique? Jo Marie Payton? As another option, it would be fun to have, say, Rosamund Pike playing the one with the hats as a Hungarian with no English whatsoever. I don’t think I’d go that way as a first choice, as it would take some careful writing, but it might pay off, I suppose.

It is too late, alas, for Roscoe Lee Browne to play the roguish Colonel. I’d kinda like to see Edward James Olmos try it, but I don’t think he’s got the twinkle. Wait… Ron Glass. Oh, yeah. Ron Glass. Got it.

That leaves the wide-boy role, Mr. Ryder, the self-made Young Turk who has left the barrio (or ghetto or slum) and is making real money, or at least faking it. This is where I have no clue—it should be, ideally, a young man (under 30) who can pass as white. Guillermo Díaz? I don’t even know what shows or movies I might be watching that would have those actors. My Best Reader observed that having the wide-boy be East Asian or South Asian might also work. It’s a different version of the gag where the cleaning ladies think of Mr. Ryder as white, and are surprised to discover that he doesn’t think of himself as white. Opportunities there, I suppose. Aasif Mandvi is probably too old. Evidently there’s a person named Booboo Stewart? And that one guy from that one TV show, um, Randall Park. Right?

Ah, fuck it, I’ll just cast Emma Stone.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.