Lightnin' is based on the 1918 stage play by Winchell Smith and Frank Bacon, in which Bacon (the father of director Lloyd Bacon) had starred for years on Broadway and "the road." Will Rogers steps into the leading role as "Lightnin'" Bill Jones, the slow-moving husband of Mary Jones (Louise Dresser). Mr. and Mrs. Jones are co-owners of a hotel built right on the borderline between California and Nevada, used as the temporary home of divorcing wives so that they may pretend to be in the "California" half of the hotel while establishing residency in the "Nevada" half. Lightnin' befriends lawyer John Marvin (Joel McCrea), at present residing in the California half to avoid arrest on a trumped-charge. When Lightnin' refuses to sell his share of the hotel to a gang of stock crooks headed by Raymond Thomas (Jason Robards Sr.), Mary is coerced into divorcing her husband so that she can sign over the deed herself. In the semi-serious courtroom finale, Lightnin' not only convinces Mary that she's still in love with him but also manages to clear John Marvin's name. Director Henry King clearly exercised no control over Will Rogers, whose incessant ad-libbing, amusing though it is, slows the film to a crawl. Still, Lightnin' proved to be just as successful as any other Rogers talkie vehicle, proving that audiences came to see the star and not the story.
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