MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

DVD Geek: Lucky Lady

In 1975, the heavily promoted Lucky Lady, sporting three big boxoffice names, was intended to be a Twentieth Century Fox blockbuster.  Directed by Stanley Donen, Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman play Prohibition Era rumrunners on the Pacific Coast, who fall into a comfortable Design for Living ménage relationship as they battle competitive gangsters and the Coast Guard.  Full of witty one-liners and some decent slapstick (especially from Reynolds), it followed the movie company formula for success precisely, but audiences quickly sniffed a turkey and the stars couldn’t save it.  Outside of a few pining-for-her-mother enclaves, nobody actually liked Minnelli as a movie star, and unless Reynolds was driving fast cars and speaking in CB talk, nobody really liked him, either.  As for Donen, well he had just finished The Little Prince, and Saturn 3 was on the horizon, so the quality portion of his career was receding quickly in the rear-view mirror.  Panicking, the studio tried out two new endings after the movie hit the theaters—another flag of disaster, to be sure (one of the endings, where the cast was wearing terrible old age makeup, was just awful)—but nothing could rescue the film and it sank without a trace.  The problem is that it sank too deeply.  The film is a little messy and rather silly, but it isn’t all that bad, and certainly deserved more post-circulation on television and such than it received.  Truth be told, Minnelli is positively delectable (she even has several teasing near-topless scenes), and her opening musical number alone is worth the price of the Shout Factory DVD release.  The witty one-liners may seem labored upon, but they are delivered with flair by the cast, who all do genuinely professional jobs to justify their big-score salaries.  The action stunts are decent, the antique boats are fun, there is a fine supporting cast including Robby Benson, John Hillerman, Geoffrey Lewis and Michael Hordern, and the ending that was settled upon is satisfying (although it is a shame the DVD did not include the others).  In the year of Jaws, the film represented Old Hollywood ways and means being eviscerated by the new, but now it is simply a pleasant amusement from the past and an easy way to spend 118 minutes free from the stresses of the modern world.

The film’s production designs and costumes are fabulous, but the cinematography is absolutely horrible.  Most of the shots are so gauzy, they remind one of trying to see things in the morning when suffering from a severe eye infection, in both eyes, or trying to read with your glasses after eating greasy chicken.  Applied haphazardly but substantially, the effect is atrocious and looked terrible in the theater, but is even worse in these days of computer-crisp video transfers.  That flaw acknowledged, the color transfer is as good as it can possibly get.  The image is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  Hues look fresh and fleshtones are palpable.  The monophonic sound is smooth and strong, but the quality tends to magnify the massive dialog overlays and alterations, and there is no subtitling.  Along with three trailers and a TV commercial, there is a 10-minute production featurette (the film was shot on water, thus extending its shooting time to two-thirds of a year, something Reynolds repeatedly jokes about) and a 7-minute featurette.

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon