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RUNNING TIME: 116 Minutes
- Vintage Interviews
Much like a fever dream I once had, Gene Hackman, Liza Minnelli, and Burt Reynolds have sex together and run booze in prohibition era America.
Gene Hackman, Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds, Stanley Donen (director)
Claire (Minnelli) sings for tourists and runs people and gin across the border in prohibition era Mexico. When her husband suddenly dies, she enlists the help of Walker (Reynolds) for one last run. Walker apparently sucks at everything so he quickly gets himself on the bad side of American ex-pat Kibby (Hackman) who helps them get the booze out to sea instead of beating the shit out of Walker. After some weird sexual tension with the group, a couple of pissed off gangsters and the coast guard show up to steal their booty. Then shit goes from bad to ‘it’s almost the last reel’ bad.
Replace Liza with Robin Williams and you have America’s hairiest threesome
Lucky Lady starts off surprisingly strong, dropping the audience in a gauze lit Mexico and trusting them to figure things out on their own. It doesn’t take long for the show to get rolling though and then things start to get a little wobbly. The film is an homage to the screwball comedies and adventure films of the past. As far as that goes, Lucky Lady is charming and breezy. Stanley Donen knows enough not to mess with that and stick to an easy formula. Sure, Burt Reynolds gets hit in the face with a pig and the film more the flirts with the idea of Hackman, Reynolds, and Minnelli as a very literal menage a trois, but the slightly surreal moments are just flourishes that help heap on the charisma of the leads. I’m a little surprised that the film was such a giant disaster at the time of it’s release, because although it has very little else going for it the film knows how to charm an audience. The leads are pretty much just screwing and one-lining their way through a rudimentary prohibition story, but it’s more than enough to keep attention for the far too long running time.
The Bandit vs Jaws was a fitting conclusion to both franchises.
Donen was never a master of pacing, even his best films such as Two For The Road and Charade suffer a bit in the end, but somehow Lucky Lady manages to have at least twenty minutes of fat and not feel too slogging. Donen and screenwriters Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck actually managed to capture a slice of what makes the Lubitsch (and I’m just using the best as an example, not an equivalency) era still so funny and watchable today. That slice may have just been great casting and a ear for crass dialogue, but it’s enough to make this an enjoyable and familiar two hours. Minnelli is at her Anime eyed best and, despite my better judgment, sexiest here. She doesn’t have the natural strength to lead the conversation and plot like a lot of the female comedians of the era, but she is more than willing to take the men on, however convincingly. Hackman and Reynolds are playing to their own strengths, but it’s an easy move with those two. Hackman is his usual grumpy self and the more ‘male’ of the duo, going so far as to introduce him as a silent, poncho wearing gunslinger. On the other hand Reynolds is free wheeling and vulnerable, almost more feminine than Minnelli in their relationship. It works on the superficial level, and with a movie like Lucky Lady that is enough.
Fun fact: If she closes her eyes, her eyelids get stuck on her nose.
But things do fall apart the second you scratch the surface. The strange (progressive?) sexual relationship between the group is brought up and then left to fizzle like most of the plot. The quirky dialogue gets tiresome, and there are more than a few moments where Hackman is skating by on his persona a little too easily. Donen’s lack of a cohesive style really hurts the film, as some tightening up and a personal touch would have fixed a majority of the problems. History has the final laugh, Lucky Lady was a flop that nearly put a stop to Reynolds and Minnelli’s career. Nothing here screams huge bomb or misstep, but I can see how the light charm may just be an acquired taste. Lucky Lady is almost off rails at the mid point and forgets to have an actual ending after spending so long on a single climatic set piece. The ending may just be a sign of the troubles on set though, Donen shot three endings and the studio chose which to use, but the breezy tone and misplaced ending makes the whole film feel loose and inconsequential. It isn’t something that should damn Lucky Lady to a career punchline, but the film is still something that you might briefly catch and enjoy on cable at best. It’s not a film to recommend, unless for some reason you were interested in Donen’s complete inconsequential fluff filled filmography. The leads are enjoyable, but no one is bringing their A-game and it feels like a paycheck when it’s all over. Even as a disaster it really has no place in film history. It’s nearly forgotten now and nowhere on the level of a Heaven’s Gate or Ishtar. It’s good enough to not run away screaming from, but Peter Bogdanovich has tried the same thing as Lucky Lady more than a few times and has done a better, although still never great, job. If you’re looking for an homage to the screwball era there are better places to look, and if you are looking for a genuine screwball comedy this is the last place you should look. Lucky Lady is cute, quick, and doesn’t bite, but it’s also styleless and stale.
The transfer is fine and translates the hazy period look of the film well. A couple of EPK interviews, with absolutely no hint of the troubles the film was having/had. are the only extras. It’s kind of amazing how the same sunshine in your ass answers are given in modern EPKs, but beyond that there is nothing of note to be had.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars