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It may have been released in 1939, but Lucky Night is not among the golden year's best-remembered films. Critics, in fact, were savage, with The New York Times slamming it as "one of the most embarrassingly bad scripts ever to be taken seriously by a producer, a director and a cast." Ouch. The Times even sarcastically printed some of the movie's dialogue, such as: "She has a lovely mind like a leaf in a tall tree that whispers what it hears on the wind." And the gem: "Cora, I -- I tremble for your future. You're hooked with a poet who doesn't write."
Perhaps the critical and commercial failure is why Lucky Night marked the only screen pairing of Myrna Loy and Robert Taylor. The story clearly wants to be another It Happened One Night (1934): Loy plays a bridge magnate's unhappy daughter who leaves the lap of luxury to try and find love on her own. Now penniless, she meets cute with the actually penniless Taylor on a park bench, and from here, they start reaping lucky windfalls. They hit jackpot after jackpot -- a new car, a large reward for capturing a bandit, and so on. Critics seemed to agree that while the first portion of the film is exciting and well-paced, things quickly become overly talky.
Loy, in her autobiography, called Lucky Night "a lame bit of whimsy.... Our first day on the set I played records, which we did sometimes to fill those endless waits between shots.... I was listening to some wonderful Cuban music when Robert Taylor approached: 'Do you have to play that sexy stuff all the time? It's the dirtiest music I ever heard.' That was my first day with him. I thought, 'Oh, brother!'
"He was a bit stuffy, but we got along all right -- during the picture, that is; later on I didn't get along with him [when he named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947]. Come to think of it, he acted somewhat deviously on Lucky Night. He was engaged to Barbara Stanwyck..., but for some reason he tried to cook up a little triangle; he wanted her to think I was after him.... Nothing could have been further from the truth, [but] I'm not sure Barbara believed [it], because on the last day of shooting she came by in a limousine and whisked him off to be married." (Actually, they married about two months later.)
Film historian Lawrence Quirk later wrote, "The picture was obviously meant to be light and amusing, but it cried out for a sophisticated, subtle script, and the directorial touch of a Lubitsch or a McCarey." It's curious that MGM thought to put Taylor and Loy in a production like Lucky Night when the script obviously wasn't up to snuff for stars of their stature. Nonetheless, both actors recovered quickly: within months, Loy would appear successfully opposite Tyrone Power in The Rains Came (1939), while Taylor would soon score his own sizable -- and much-needed -- hit with Waterloo Bridge (1940).
Adding some life to smaller roles in Lucky Night are a multitude of recognizable character actors, including: Frank Faylen, who later played Ernie the cabdriver in It's a Wonderful Life (1946); Edward Gargan, who racked up over 300 film roles, usually uncredited and almost always playing doormen, cab drivers, truck drivers or cops (as he is here); the stalwart Marjorie Main, star of nine "Ma Kettle" films, as well as Humphrey Bogart's mother in Dead End (1937) and many similar roles; Douglas Fowley, who would later play the frazzled movie director in Singin' in the Rain (1952); and the ever-present Charles Lane, who appeared in more bit roles than just about any other actor. By the time Lane died in 2007 at age 102, he had over 350 film and TV credits on his resume, from Smart Money (1931) to Date with an Angel (1987) (and a few late career TV appearances). Frank Capra was especially fond of Lane and cast him in nine pictures.
Lucky Night director Norman Taurog was never a significant stylist, but he was a workhorse in several genres. In early 1939, while in production on this film, he received an Oscar® nomination for Boys Town (1938); he lost the award to Frank Capra, for You Can't Take It with You (1938). Taurog had previously won the Best Director award for Skippy (1931).
Producer: Louis D. Lighton
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Grover Jones, Vincent Lawrence; Oliver Claxton (story)
Cinematography: Ray June
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Film Editing: Elmo Veron
Cast: Myrna Loy (Cora Jordan Overton), Robert Taylor (William 'Bill' Overton), Joseph Allen (Joe Hilton), Henry O'Neill (H. Calvin Jordan, Cora's Dad), Douglas Fowley (George, Bill's 'Friend'), Bernard Nedell ('Dusty' Sawyer), Charles Lane (Mr. Carpenter, Paint Store Owner), Bernadene Hayes (Blondie, Clerk at Carpenters), Gladys Blake (Blackie, Clerk at Carpenters), Marjorie Main (Mrs. Briggs, the Landlady), Edward Gargan (Policeman in Park), Irving Bacon (Bus Conductor), Oscar O'Shea (Police Lieutenant Murphy).
by Jeremy Arnold
James Kotsilibas-Davis and Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming
Lawrence Quirk, The Films of Myrna Loy
Lawrence Quirk, The Films of Robert Taylor