Review: Lucky Lady (1975)

>> Sunday, January 9, 2011

USA/C-118m./Dir: Stanley Donen/Wr: Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz/Cast: Gene Hackman (Kibby Womack), Liza Minnelli (Claire), Burt Reynolds (Walker Ellis), Robby Benson (Billy), Geoffrey Lewis (Capt. Mosely), John Hillerman (McTeague), Michael Hordern (Capt. Rockwell)

Moonshine movies were all the rage in the Sixties and Seventies, so Twentieth Century Fox felt they had a sure hit on their hands with Lucky Lady, a comedy about rumrunners during Prohibition. With actors like Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, and Liza Minnelli (fresh off an Oscar win for Caberet) attached to star, Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain, Charade) set to direct, and a couple of tunes by Kander and Ebb (Cabaret), what could possibly go wrong? Just about everything, as it turned out. The movie’s twelve-week shooting schedule expanded to twenty; its $10 million dollar budget ballooned to 22 million; and the cast had to be reunited for re-shoots when test audiences didn’t go for the original ending. Worst of all, when the flick was finally released on Christmas of 1975, it belly-flopped at the box office.

Liza Minnelli stars as Claire, a nightclub singer and widow of a smuggler, who concocts a plan to make some dough by transporting Canadian scotch from Tijuana to San Diego on her lover’s yacht. Said lover, Walker Ellis (Burt Reynolds), loses the stake money for the booze to a drifter (Gene Hackman), so Claire reluctantly has to take on a third partner. The trio ends up getting along famously (ménage-a-trios are implied), and they turn their initial bootlegging excursion into a booming business. Unfortunately, this draws the attention of an overzealous coast guard (Geoffrey Lewis) and a gangster (John Hillerman) who wants to snatch control of all of the bootlegging traffic.

It’s easy to see why Lucky Lady failed to connect with audiences and critics in 1975. In fact, it’s hard to imagine who the intended audience for the film could have been. The subject matter was too sexually suggestive for family audiences but not daring enough to appeal to prurient interests. The tone of the film was all over the place, swinging from low comedy to stark seriousness to musical numbers to gruesome violence. The picture was even pretty ugly to look at, due to the use of flashing techniques, in which film is pre-exposed to light to give it a hazy, vintage look. In the case of Lucky Lady, this film flashing didn’t so much evoke a 1930’s setting as it suggested that the crew perpetually filmed in a fog.

Although Reynolds, Hackman, and Minnelli do sample their product from time to time, Lucky Lady is a typical bootlegging movie, in that alcohol is moved around a lot more than it is actually consumed. However, if inquisitive soused cinefiles decide to seek out this forgotten curio, they will probably find it to be an amiable time waster. Lucky Lady isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation. It’s simply mediocre to its core.

Drinks Consumed--Scotch (Johnny Walker Red, Usher’s Green Stripe, and Black & White), and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, slurred speech, and harmonizing

Potent Quotables--BILLY: My dad always used to make a toast after a good run, but you only drink half of it.
CLAIRE (raising a glass of scotch): To us.
EVERYONE: To us. (They drink.)
KIBBY: What’s the other half for?
BILLY: That you give to the old man who lives in the sea for lettin’ us sail home safe. (They each toss their glasses with the remaining scotch overboard.)
KIBBY: Give me another half there. Will ya, kid.

Video Availability--Lucky Lady -DVD (Shout Factory)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Angie Dickinson tries her hand at bootlegging but finds robbing banks more profitable in Big Bad Mama (1974).

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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