A highly anticipated flop circa Christmas 1975, Lucky Lady has all the ingredients of a hit. Liza Minnelli, hot from Cabaret, Burt Reynolds between Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit, a post- French Connection Gene Hackman. Even just the deal-making to bring them together for an action-packed story about gin-running in the 1930’s would be a story in itself, but Lucky Lady does have points of interest in terms of 1970’s cinema.
Steven Spielberg turned this one down to make Jaws, but Stanley Donen stepped in and brings a certain old-school professionalism to the package, which features Bonnie and Clyde lawlessness and violence, lots of movie-star cuteness and slapstick, and a few songs as well. It’s a strange cocktail, but not without charm; Claire (Minnelli) has just lost her husband, and suave Walker (Burt (Reynolds) is keen to step into the gap. He forms as alliance with the wily Kibby (Gene Hackman) when rescues from a drop-off-gone-wrong, and the threesome begin to operate a smuggling operation off the California coast. They also engage in bath-time frolics as an actual threesome, but this Jules et Jim angle isn’t well developed. Instead, there’s a big finale on the water, with lots of boats, guns and explosions
For a film that starts with drawings of flappers and vintage music, Lucky Lady also credits someone for ‘battle sequences’ and that uneasy mix is actually kind of fun to watch. Hackman is in great form here; ’ Up your bucket!’ he shouts defiantly as some fellow scallywags get in his way, while Reynolds is just teetering on the edge of the self-parody which ruined his career at regular intervals. Minnelli isn’t quite a good fit for her character, but even though her wig is ridiculous, she stull makes an impact.
Where Lucky Lady really fails is the ending; with three different endings, downbeat, upbeat and non-event, in the can, Donen chose the latter, and the film stops abruptly with many of the narrative issues unresolved. George Lucas, wandering the set looking for talent to work on his Star Wars project, must have noted the star-excess and the budgetary overload; he would give Fox a game-changing hit that somehow took energy from the failure of this ramshackle but watchable star-vehicle.