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Sometimes you just have to scratch your head. All the ingredients are in
place for a great movie. In this case you have a cast headed by Burt
Reynolds, Gene Hackman, and Liza Minnelli, and a top director in Stanley
Donen who made the classic "Singing in the Rain." So what went wrong?
In a word it's the script. When ideas run out an action sequence is implanted to try and throw the viewer off. Nice try fellas but it didn't work.
Even the main story is just brushed over. An often intimated threesome with the main leads is just a tease. It's never explored and only serves to wet our appetite for something that might liven this mess up. Alas, it never comes.
Released at Christmas in 1975 "Lucky Lady" proved to be a major box office flop. It's easy to see why. I'm sure no one connected with the film is too pleased to be reminded of it.
Released in Sydney in 1976 in the beautiful lost Plaza cinerama-screen theatre LL was crazily blown up to 70mm for release here and suffered horrible cropping to make it a rectangle 2.2 ratio pic when it seemed to be shot 1.66-1. Heads were cut off, or in one famous scene with Liza in a chair with Hackman and Reynolds standing behind her (the famous "fish fart" line) all we saw was her eyes on the stage and the men's chins at the top. I saw it again in proper ratio and it was far better, so whoever's idea to blow it up literally only added to the maligned 'bomb' status of this very expensive ($13m) 1975 film. Yes, the washed out image also looks weird, and makes you yearn for better access into the antics on screen. We had one of the 3 reported endings: the silly happy one where they all surface in the water after being blown up. The Butch Cassidy ending where the guys die and she is left would have been much better. Amazing that this film cost $4m more than STAR WARS filmed the next year. I saw a terrific 'making of' featurette at a nearby cinema at the same time which was in focus and offered a witty and attractive lead to the film, so there is plenty for the DVD if we get it. Reynolds other films of the time AT LONG LAST LOVE and NICKELODEON deserve favourable DVD releases too; all 3 are funny and enjoyable and compared to new multiplex releases from the USA, are masterpieces. LL is almost a musical and Reynolds is a hoot. The John Held artwork on the credits will make you rush to buy a book of his delicious 1920s cartoons.
Liza Minnelli plays such a selfish harpy in "Lucky Lady" that it's easy to see why this film won her no new admirers. Fans of 1972's "Cabaret" were already softened to love Minnelli no matter what, but here director Stanley Donen seems intent on making Liza's character Claire as brittle and abrasive as possible. The lumbering plot, about a trio of rum-runners in the 1930s who outsmart the competition and fall into an oddly casual three-way love affair, isn't worked out cohesively in terms of the narrative (and the overlapping scenes of raunch, comedy, and mobster melodrama eventually cause impatience and resentment). At first it's a bit shocking to see Liza in bed between Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds, however the movie isn't all about after-hours fun under-the-sheets; Donen turns the third act into a violent extravaganza (with a slapstick bent), including boats blowing up, guns going off, and dead bodies everywhere. The picture walks a shaky line between nostalgia and bloodshed, with echoes of "Bonnie & Clyde"'s jangly tone. Little of it jells, though the attempt is certainly a curious one. **1/2 from ****
Interesting little comedy featuring 3 down on their luck folks who, during the depression, formed a coalition to run booze past the coast guard. Turns out the CG is the least of their woes as a psychotic rumrunner decides to take over the entire area and rub out any who stand in his path. Good shootout as a finale with a multitude of boats gunning it out in a Pacific cove. Good one.
Might be called "Sally Bowles Comes Home And Runs Liquor." Her character is
almost a parody of her "Cabaret" role. Hackman is Buck Barrow with a comedy
twist and Reynolds is perfecting that moron-suave character that he took to
such heights in "At Long Last Love."
The film has the distinction of having had, if memory serves, three different endings. I saw the first in previews. A real curve ball in which the male leads get killed and Minelli is left bereft. They went back to the drawing board and the movie premiered with a tacked on scene shot much later which involved the three stars, with the tackiest of make-up jobs, rolling around in a bed in their "elderly" years. From what I can tell by watching it recently, they dropped that entirely and simply cut together some outtakes which they ran under the credits which give us the impression that everybody ended up okay.
There was also this mid-70's technique of film "flashing" which involved pre-exposing the stock to give the film a lighter, airier look. Taken to ridiculous extremes here, it almost looks as if someone just scratched up the lens faces with a Brillo pad.
I really enjoyed this film. I saw it in Shreveport, LA in 1975. I
enjoyed watching and listening to one man, who laughed like roaring
thunder all through the film. I enjoyed him enjoying the film.
The story is a bit choppy and uneven. The editing is smooth and clean. The costumes and props are all first-rate. The acting is good, but not great.
The climactic "battle scene" is a whopper. Sort of like something Yakima Canutt would do, except it is on water. Great Second Unit work, to be sure.
It is not really a love story, and the bedroom scenes are stuffy and over-rehearsed. You are not really sure who is in love with whom, but it does not matter.
Robby Benson has a good little role, he went to some good character work.
I want to get a DVD of this film and soon.
After the popularity of "The Sting" a few other movies surfaced with period themes and involving gangsters. I have to say to me "Lucky Lady" was one of the more entertaining. Acting from Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, and Liza Minnelli was certainly more than competent and decent from the rest the cast. The costumes, sets, and music were quite good. Overall just a fun movie to watch. Take a group of privateers during Prohibition (law passed making drinking liquor against the law in U.S.) that wants to make a little fast money selling liquor smuggled in from Canada with the mob and the law hot on their heels and you get the theme of the movie. Considering the star power here and the fact that this is certainly much better to watch than a lot of trash out on DVD it surprises me this has never been released on DVD and if it ever was on VHS it is long since OOP. I sure hope some smart studio gets this our on DVD. I can guarantee they will do much better with it than many others they might try to market.
I've always had a soft spot for this overly maligned production, the "Ishtar" of its day. It's an oft-kilter mix, to be sure, with some great low comedy bits jarringly interrupted by graphic violence. But it's always fun, and the star trio (especially Reynolds, in a very overlooked performance) seem to be having a ball. Liza Minnelli's production number, "Get While The Gettin' Is Good", is absolutely terrific; she is at her wittiest. Stanley Donen just a few years ago proclaimed he was proud of "Lucky Lady", and I'm hoping eventually this movie will find some type of audience other than Liza Minnelli completists. Hey, Fox, put it on video!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's so much behind the scenes talent that went into making this dog, it's shocking how bad a movie it is. Three rum-runners in the 1920s team up to strike it rich. What was presumably meant to be a frothy comedy is a still-born waste of time and energy. Director Stanley Donen loses his way badly here and he's not helped by the witless script (credited to Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who just hit pay dirt with American GRAFFITI). There's nary a laugh to be found, unless of course you find such chestnuts as "it's so quiet you can hear a fish fart" to be funny. Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman are the pricey leads and they don't bring anything the this party. Hackman looks particularly ill-at-ease. The great Geoffrey Unsworth is credited with providing the cinematography, which for some reason appears to be filtered through gauze, giving the entire film a hazy look. Michael Hordern, John Hillerman, Geoffrey Lewis and Anthony Holland are in it too. Robby Benson appears as a sort of junior rum runner.
I still remember seeing this movie, way back in 1976, at the Fortway theater
in Brooklyn, NY. It was a second run theater that showed double features,
usually movies that were originally released 6 months earlier, for only
$2.00 (ahh those were the days). Lucky Lady played on a double bill with
Sky Riders, which starred James Coburn, Susannah York and Robert Culp. I
was around 13 at the time, and had a little idea of what Sky Riders was
about, no idea of the story to Lucky Lady, though I know it received poor
reviews. I have to admit I enjoyed them both, but had a grand time watching
Lucky Lady. It seemed a bit episodic, and the humor at times was kinda
dumb, but I got to like the characters, even the minor ones like Robbie
Benson as their "first mate," Michael Hordern as the old captain, and even
Geoffrey Lewis as the zealous but loony Coast Guard captain out to sink any
bootleggers he comes across. But the villains really stole the show,
especially John Hillerman as the machine-gun toting main villain.
One complaint was that the final boat battle was a rip-off of the James Bond battles. Who cares, as long as it's done well--in fact Mr. Donen should have been approached to do some of the Bonds after this movie.
I may have seen the movie on tv shortly after its release. I don't remember if i liked it as much, seeing it on tv wasn't quite the same. I don't know if I would like it as much now either, but I would certainly be interested in seeing it on video. As another person commented, so much dreck is being released on DVD, I don't see why Lucky Lady shouldn't be made available. At least it tried to be a class act, which is more than you can say for many of today's releases.
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