The Lady and the Dale (2021)

lady and the dale poster 2021 movie
8.0 Overall Score

Interesting story about a person whose crimes were overshadowed by other factors, interesting animation

Gets a little bogged down at the end

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Does the crime fit?

Liz Carmichael is out to start a vehicular revolution.  With the three-wheeled Dale, Liz hopes to bring an affordable cars with high gas mileage in a time when gas prices and supply were skyrocketing.  The sales are popping and the Dales are selling to people of all incomes…unfortunately, the Dale doesn’t really exist.  A prototype test model and preliminary work do not make a car, and Liz is in a race against time to find the financers before her lies catch up to her.  The Dale might not be real, but Liz’s other secret could be her bigger downfall.

The Lady and the Dale is an HBO documentary series.  The story is a biography of Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael (1927-February 2004).  The series aired from January 31, 2021 to February 14, 2021 to positive reviews.

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You’ve won an almost completed car!!!

The story of the Dale is an interesting one.  It is a story built on capitalism, hope, and hype.  It is this “true crime” story that can rope in viewers, but it is the story of Liz Carmichael that cements the story and gives it a unique twist…that feels completely modern and topical.

The series has essentially two parallel stories:  Liz and the Dale.  The Dale is presented as a fraud and potential get rich scheme, but through the course of the telling the story, it kind of comes into question if it is a get rich quick scheme.  The engineers and workers that Liz employed believed in the car and Liz, and Liz seemed to believe in the car.  It is a bit fuzzy if Liz’s intentions were true and honest.

This ties into the second and more significant storyline.  Liz also is “fake”.  Liz was born Jerry Dean Michael.  She had a pretty seedy career as a relatively small time criminal with ties to the mafia and other underworld scenes.  Liz reinvented herself following repeated con after con and began living as a woman.  A debate comes in the series whether she did it just to avoid prosecution and to “hide” and this of course became the sensationalized part of the trial.  While the court found Liz to be a woman, the attacks often feel more due to Liz’s gender rather than the crimes (which she legitimately did commit).

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A family of nomads surviving on the run

It however is obvious in 2021 hindsight that Liz wasn’t “faking” and that she did have a gender dysphoria that she struggled with.  In the mid-1970s there were great strides in transgender understanding, but it still wasn’t something accepted or understood (which is often still true today).  There are points in the series were some of the players obviously are still rocked by this bias and there are others who are shockingly accepting…as bad as it could have been, it felt like there was surprisingly opened minded people around Liz that kept her life from being a completely despair.

Liz’s guilt is never questioned, but the villain of the piece is society…but also in two of major media interactions Liz had.  Dick Carlson of KABC-TV in Los Angeles did his job to expose the fraud of the Dale, but seemed to take his vilification of Liz a step farther…and holds onto it (his son Tucker Carlson also seems to have similar views as his father towards transgender people).  Another reporter in Texas Mark Lisheron exposes another legitimate crime (tax fraud issues) but seems to have zeal in exposing Liz as a former male.  It doesn’t paint a good picture of fairness in journalism because they are confusing sensationalism with actual crime reporting (and it would have been interesting to see more presentations from the time period to see if it was the common reporting).  Liz was a criminal…but her crime ended up trying to be a woman more than the actual crime she was guilty of.

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The apple doesn’t fall far from the rotten Carlson tree

In general, the story for The Lady and the Dale is there, but it needs some working.  At the end of the series, the documentary makers try to present other famous and historical transgender people that had to fight for their representation, but it feels like overkill and a little too little and too late.  I felt that by the time they introduce the fight for the treatment of transgender people, that they had already proven their case with Liz.

The fact that the car almost worked leads to a big “what if” question…what would have happened if the car had worked?  Would we all be driving Dales (or similar models) and would her big secret ever been exposed?  With the pre-internet, Liz potentially could have had a long run without her secret coming out, but Liz’s ambition and showmanship were her undoing.  She didn’t want to live small and for a transgender woman in the 1970s, that wasn’t going to end well.  The series is a good reminder that like personal attacks don’t have be part of the mix, especially when there is a criminal action…when it gets personal, it gets ugly…and history shows that those who cast those stones are the ones looked down upon.

The Lady and the Dale Complete Episode Guide:

lady and the dale episode 1 soldier of fortune liz carmichael animation

“Soldier of Fortune”

Episode 1:  Soldier of Fortune Airdate:  01/31/21

When the Dale was introduced, it seemed like something was wrong…and attention came to Dale’s promoter Elizabeth Carmichael who had a secret herself.  Liz Carmichael was born as Jerry Dean Michael and had a long history of grifting and evading the law that began in her childhood in Indiana, through multiple marriages, and eventual transition into being a woman.  The Dale could be Liz’s big meal ticket or her biggest grift yet…or it could be her undoing.

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“Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware”

Episode 2:  Caveat Emptor:  Buyer Beware Airdate:  01/31/21

The Dale is in production…maybe?  With pre-sales and promises of great gas mileage as the nation copes with a fuel shortage, Liz’s marketing of the Dale is a success.  Unfortunately, the Dale doesn’t work and keeping ahead of the media and investors could be critical.

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“The Guilty Fleeth”

Episode 3:  The Guilty Fleeth Airdate:  02/07/21

Liz’s secret is out and the Dale has folded.  When Liz is captured on the run, a court trial begins to judge Liz’s guilt in the Dale scam, but Liz’s gender identity could really be on trial.

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“Celestial Bodies”

Episode 4:  Celestial Bodies Airdate:  02/14/21

Liz’s days of running are up after an Unsolved Mysteries broadcast and a stint in prison means Liz must once again reinvent herself.  Unfortunately, Liz’s new project attracts attention once again.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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