Thursday, 13 May 2010

Lucky Night (1939)

If you ever want to put someone off classic films forever, just show them "Lucky Night". It is a strong contender to one of the worst A-pictures of the 1930s - other than Robert Taylor's astonishing good looks (he is one of the prettiest men ever captured on film, if not the the prettiest) nothing works. In fact the film is so bad, it should be used as an example of how not to do.

Let's start with the main problem - the script, and look away cause there will be spoilers. It looks like it has been glued together, and badly, from separate stories, something typical of the early talkies (as I mentioned here, for example). A rich heiress (Myrna Loy) is bored so decides to go and find a job and the meaning of life. She fails and that night, on a park bench, she meets a fellow unemployed (Taylor) and they embark on a night of drink and gambling where nothing goes wrong. They wake up married and because her father disapproves, they decide to take a go at it. It doesn't go very well. He wants fun and she wants a home (this is after all an MGM film) so they part ways. Then there's a happy ending which is parachuted two minutes before the ending.

I assume the intention was to show the compromises that make up relationships. Instead, we have the opposite. Magic will solve everything. At the end, neither has surrendered and consequentially all is bound to happen again. The characters are also so sketchy that one doesn't really empathise with them, or even side with them. They're both idiotically naïve and Taylor's character in particular has very peculiar notions of how to survive. Loy's father describes him as "a poet who doesn't write", which pretty much summarises him. All this is exacerbated by a director (Norman Taurog) who fails to direct, guide or even try to savage the film.

The cast is not much better. Douglas Fowley as George, the friend who supports them through the mad night is the only good thing in that department. Robert Taylor and Myrna Loy suffer from the bad script but they are also to blame. In the pre-war dramas she made at MGM she looks too noble and suffering and looks stale and uninteresting as a consequence - she doesn't appear to be the same woman who did "The Thin Man", "Libeled Lady" or "Third Finger, Left Hand". Maybe she was only at ease in comedies, or may those were just better scripts, better directed. Robert Taylor on the other hand was never a great actor and that shows. Good looking, yes, charming, yes, but of limited talent. But funnily enough, he survives the crash better that Loy.


Evangeline Holland said...

Ugh...I actually hate each of the MGM films in which Myrna was the star or female lead (Man-Proof; this; Whipsaw; Third Finger, Left Hand) and even after reading her autobiography, I can't understand why she let the studio stick her in such crappy films. And even though I adore Myrna, she really needed the combination of a great script, a great co-star, and a great director--otherwise she tended to float through a movie, looking bored and haughty, and playing comedic scenes too heavily.

Robert Taylor is an actor I've never been able to warm up to unless he was playing a villain (Undercurrent). He was pretty without the mustache, and handsome with it, but he had such a heavy, heavy touch with comedy, and couldn't inject enough pathos into his drama.

As for the film, I have no idea what it was supposed to be about. Mainly, I felt the conflict between Myrna and Bob seemed better suited to one of those professional women/boss ladies that Barbara Stanwyck and Rosalind Russell (and to a lesser extent, Claudette Colbert) excelled at playing in the late 30s/early 40s, not a stay-at-home wife. And you're right, the plot did feel cobbled together: a runaway heiress mashed with a Ginger Rogers-esque working girl mashed with a downtrodden wife with an errant husband. Taylor's character was a huge flaw, because his free-spiritedness just looked foolish after marriage, and his philosophy was just so immature. I couldn't wait for this to end..

Miguel said...

I agree entirely with what you said, except that I loved "Third Finger, Left Hand". I didn't see "Man-Proof" or "Whipsaw" but the films she did with Gable have been disappointing. I too wonder how she could have done "Penthouse", "The Thin Man" and "Libeled Lady" and then a string of disappointing albeit highly successful films.

VP81955 said...

Myrna Loy may have been to actresses what Fred MacMurray was to actors -- someone who's at their most effective as a complementary star, not quite strong enough as a personality to take control. (That's not meant as a knock on either Myrna or Fred, as I adore the screen work of both.) But Loy was at her best playing off Powell, Gable or even Robert Montgomery, while MacMurray's qualities were best drawn out by being cast opposite Lombard, Stanwyck or Claudette Colbert.

Miguel said...

I think there is certainly an element of that; but I think she also could do with a strong director and a good script (which most of her solo efforts are not).
I think she's wonderful in "Penthouse" and Warner Baxter is not in the same league as Powell, Montgomery or Melvyn Douglas (I don't like her films with Gable very much). There you had WS Van Dyke to guide her.