There ought to be a genre listing for Forgotten Blockbusters. You can name movies that the studios spent a fortune making, sold plenty of tickets and over the years have become so obscure that they’re too tough for a Final Jeopardy clue. The lack of night owl movie programming has nudged hundreds of formerly popular flicks off the radar. Lucky Lady is one of those titles. The film marked Liza Minnelli’s return to the big screen since becoming a sensation in Cabaret. There was plenty of beefcake sizzle with her co-stars being Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman. Behind the camera was Stanley Donen (Singin’ In the Rain and Charade) with a script by the couple that teamed up with George Lucas to write American Graffiti. How could this Prohibition era period piece not be immortal cinema?
Liza’s a recently widowed singer that runs a nightclub just over the border in Mexico. Burt’s her boyfriend who is stepping up to be her main man. He’s taking over their illegal rackets such as driving folks to America. He’s not the hunky brave guy from Deliverance or The Longest Yard. He’s a bit inept and lazy. But he loves him some Liza. Arriving onto the scene is Gene Hackman. He’s got the underworld instincts. Ultimately the trio get involved in running Johnny Walker from Canada into Southern California via a sailing ship called Lucky Lady. Robby Benson (Beauty and the Beast) is the young sailor that knows the ship. Things go well at first. They figure out a way to outsmart Coast Guard boat captained by Geoffrey Lewis (the man who isn’t Robert Pine). The booze pours out and the money rolls in. Liza has no issue choosing between Burt and Gene as lovers since she picks both and they reluctantly play along. This brings the sexually liberated ‘70s to the ‘30s. Trouble explodes when John Hillerman (Magnum P.I.) arrives on the coast ready to plant a flag for the mobsters. They can’t let a ragtag pack of outlaws control the vice action in SoCal. There’s a full scale water confrontation with the mobsters led by Liza, Gene and Burt.
Lucky Lady is not a perfect picture. Right off the bat there’s something odd about the production when Burt has the best hair of the trio. Liza’s blond curls don’t work for her face like the iconic black hair helmet from Cabaret. There’s tone issues as the script gives a lighthearted comic tone while giving us rather gruesome murders. Imagine an episode of The Untouchables mixed with Three’s Company. There’s a bit of comedy in Lewis’ uptight Coast Guard protector, but there’s zero humor in Hillerman’s mobster. Thanks to the three major stars, Lucky Lady is strangely enjoyable. Liza gets her musical moment. Burt gets to stretch his slapstick chops that would lead to Smokey and the Bandit. Gene gets to be a little romantic instead of completely gruff. Lucky Lady doesn’t deserve to fade into the recesses of the vault. Luckily you’ll no longer have to contemplate buying this once high profile movie about bootleggers on a bootleg transfer.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. There is a deliberate soft focus in the image to make Liza glow and disguise Burt’s hair situation. The boat battle at the end does look great. The audio is mono. The soundtrack reflects the prohibition age.
The Lucky Lady Log (9:42) is a vintage behind the scenes documentary. You can tell this is old as they demonstrate how to cut and sync sound using 35mm mag tracks. They show off how they do the boat battle without the aid of miniatures. They really blew up boats.
Launching Lucky Lady (6:34) is a more conventional film about how they made the film. They press the fact that this is a romantic-action-comedy.
Trailers (7:10) gives three different cuts. The final trailer sells this as almost an American version of Cabaret with Liza’s singing to Tommygun attacks.
TV Spot (1:00) gives a concise plug for the rum runners.
Lucky Lady puts star power at sea. Liza, Gene and Burt play up their movie star appeal as good hearted rum runners during the Prohibition era. The fact that Liza doesn’t mind having the two men as lovers puts this beyond the normal recreation of old movies. You never saw anyone living the Big Love life on The Untouchables. There’s an odd mix of slapstick fun and drastic violence that makes this interesting viewing.
Shout! Factory presents Lucky Lady. Starring: Gene Hackman, Liza Minnelli, and Burt Reynolds. Directed by: Stanley Donen. Screenplay by: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Running time: 97 minutes. Released on DVD: February 1, 2011.
Tags: Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman