Lady Against the Odds is a nifty number that I stumbled across on Netflix. It looks like a network TV Movie or and HBO film for TV. It might even have been a pilot for a show that didn’t get picked up – if that’s the case, more’s the pity. Set in 1943 LA, during the war, Lady captures the ambiance skillfully, opening with art deco backgrounds and sepia-tinted post-cards of iconic WWII LA, then segueing into dark, shadowy cinematography for a dip into blacked-out streets, a sleazy bar, and a shoot-out between the P. I. heroine and her prey. The rest of the film deftly soft focuses technicolored rich mansions and glamorous parties and blends it with shadow and sepia, as if uncovering beneath MGM glamor the seaminess of politics, law, and wealth. The cast is a gathering of T.V professionals who play their roles with 1940s toughness, wise cracks, sharpness, and intrepidity. The main character is Crystal Bernard’s P.I., keeping the business going that she and her husband started before he was called off to war. Bold, sharp-minded, and wise cracking, while still loyal and compassionate, Bernard’s Dol makes an honorable addition to the gallery of smart-talking gals played by Joan Bennett, Lynn Bari, Ella Raines, and Lucille Ball back in the day. Her friend and partner Sylvia (Annabeth Gish of The X-Files) turns in a nifty performance as almost a naif but still no dope. She’s a rich girl trying to prove she’s got what it takes to make it on her own, or at least in tandem with her friend Dol. And John Finn (The X-Files, Cold Case) does a neat turn as police Detective Donnelly, a bum knee having kept him out of the war, bitter though not exactly cynical – not quite a nemesis or an ally, just certain that the two women are in way over their heads when it comes to murder.
The mystery itself is twisty and fascinating, sucking us into corruption in the best of families, PTSD haunting veterans – in the best tradition of Murder, My Sweet (in the first case) and Somewhere in the Night or The Crooked Way (in the second). Dan Castellenata (Homer Simpson!) is the sleazy reporter gumming up the works. Possible romantic leads, as well as suspects, are Kevin Kilner (Earth: Final Conflict) and Rob Estes (Silk Stalkings, Suddenly Susan). Also on hand are Polly Bergen as a wealthy, sophisticated, and not-all-there mother of a son lost in the war, as well as Roy Thinnes (another X-Files veteran and The Invaders) as her industrialist husband of questionable business ethics, with Barbara Luna (Star Trek and Buck Rogers) an elegant, shrewd madame. The decor, costuming, cars, and other props will leave period afficionados drooling. The length of some of the skirts is actually a bit long for the mid to early ’40s (outfits left over from 1938?) and Dol’s slacks are much too tailored for 1940s slacks (men’s or women’s). Nevertheless, my buddy Sonia and I would positively kill (pun intended) to put some of those ensembles in our closets!