on DVD today for the first time courtesy of Shout! Factory. While hardly a classic, it is noteworthy for presenting the lead actors as Prohibition-era bootleggers in "a fully functioning ménage à trois," among other attributes.
Reynolds (sporting crisp white trousers with visible panty lines throughout) plays Walker, a down-on-his-luck booze runner in a Mexican border town who teams up with a cabaret singer (Minnelli) and fellow vagabond Kibby (Hackman). The three commandeer a boat christened the "Lucky Lady" and begin sneaking Johnny Walker whiskey across the maritime border to California. Along the way, they cross paths with a villainous rival (John Hillerman, who would later portray Tom Selleck's manservant on TV's Magnum P.I.), a law-enforcing Naval commander played by Geoffrey Lewis (Salem's Lot), and Robby Benson as a vindictive if innocent-looking young ship hand.
The trio also forms a unique romantic entanglement. Since both Walker and Kibby are attracted to Minnelli's Claire, they all decide to share each other. Lucky Lady includes racy sequences (at least for the time) of the three co-habiting a room, a bed and a bathtub. As Hackman's Kibby sarcastically remarks of the arrangement as he cozies up to Minnelli and Reynolds, "It's pretty unnatural, if you ask me."
Hackman would a few years later make a bigger splash as the villainous Lex Luthor in Superman and Superman II. Two other architects of this handsome production, director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth and production designer John Barry, would also work on Superman. However, whereas Lucky Lady screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz would write the 1976 blockbuster American Graffiti (directed by George Lucas), they ultimately created the disastrous Howard the Duck. The pair's work here, apart from the threesome element and a few scattered, funny lines, is generally negligible.
On the plus side, Minnelli sings two songs penned exclusively for the movie by gay composers John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago). While Lucky Lady doesn't represent the duo's most memorable work, their ditties serve the film and time period depicted well. Likewise, this is far from Donen's greatest achievement but many a big-name director has done a lot worse with even bigger stars and budgets (Spielberg's 1941 springs immediately to mind).
As Claire says at one point in the movie, "There are two ways of looking at things: your way and everybody else's." Lucky Lady may not be a classic in my estimation, but viewers are welcome to watch it and disagree.
Reverend's Rating: C+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.