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Here's an odd team for you: a brash and very American leading lady and a suave and very British leading man in a comedy based on a French movie remade by a director better known for downbeat dramas like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Of Mice and Men (1939).
In Lucky Partners (1940), Ginger Rogers plays a Greenwich Village bookstore owner engaged to a "schnook from Poughkepsie" (she appears in a noticeably darker hair color that she usually reserved for dramatic roles). One day on the street she runs into a famous painter living incognito after a recent scandal. The gentleman wishes her good luck, for no apparent reason, and soon after, Ginger gets the gift of an expensive hand-me-down gown from a customer. Convinced the painter is her lucky charm, she catches up with him and proposes they split a sweepstakes ticket. He agrees, but only if she will accompany him on a "platonic" honeymoon, an artistic experiment she initially vetos but eventually accepts to spite her jealous boyfriend. Complications, of course, ensue, landing most of the cast in court before everything is settled in favor of good luck and true love.
The picture came about somewhat off-handedly. Ronald Colman had recently formed a production company to capitalize on a successful string of films that included A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), and The Light That Failed (1939)each of them about as far as you can get from the light romantic fluff of Lucky Partners. Still, this movie and My Life with Caroline (1941) were the best scripts Colman had available at the time, and he needed to make something to keep his company going. Reportedly turning down Rebecca (1940), he hired old friend Lewis Milestone to direct him in this comedy adapted by Allan Scott from an earlier French film, Bonne Chance (1935), written and directed by and starring the flamboyant and controversial Sacha Guitry, often considered the French Noel Coward. Other reports said a number of female stars passed on the project but Ginger Rogers jumped at the chance to work with Colman, turning down the role of Hildy Johnson eventually played by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (1940). "Everything about him, from his voice to his gentlemanly manner, thrilled me," Rogers said in her autobiography. "I'd sit there gazing at him with a perpetual grin of pleasure on my face, just like a fan." Reports that the two did not get along while making Lucky Partners were strongly denied by Rogers.
Milestone said one cast member Rogers did not approve of, however, was Jack Carson. According to the director, Rogers told him she didn't want him to play her fianc because "he was an extra in one of my pictures," to which he replied, "I can bring up pictures where you were an extra girl! Everyone starts where he can." Milestone had trouble getting Carson to drop his awe of the two stars and assert himself on the set. Eventually, the actor broke through and his co-stars loved his work. Carson went on to become one of the most popular and reliable supporting players in a career that lasted into the early 1960s.
The filming of Lucky Partners was not always smooth. First, shooting had to be halted while script fixes were made by noted playwright John Van Druten and a handful of other writers, including Milestone himself, although only Van Druten and Scott got screen credit. Then Milestone got sick, delaying the shoot another 18 days. The picture ran so far behind schedule that Rogers could not take her customary, contractually mandated break between pictures and had to go immediately into Kitty Foyle (1940), the film that won her the Academy Award.
About Rogers' hair: the production team was shocked by the darkness of it when the usually blonde star showed up on set. Many reports said RKO, Rogers' home studio, forced various hair colors on her, but she insisted it was always her own doing. Although she defensively noted that it was the character in Lucky Partners she was interested in, not the glamour, and that she believed dark hair was right for the role, she eventually admitted it was a little too dark and a bit of a mistake. Always concerned about her looks on screen, Rogers insisted on seeing the rushes every day. According to Milestone, as soon as they began, she would start sliding down into her seat and moaning, convinced she looked terrible. Some reviewers agreed; the Christian Science Monitor said, "Ginger Rogers, always a lively and attractive person, has not been well used...either by her hairdresser or her couturiere."
Lucky Partners drew mixed reviews; some found it effervescent and charming, others slammed it as "neither convincing nor amusing." It didn't do big business at the box office either. Luckily, Rogers recovered quickly with her acclaimed work in Kitty Foyle and a hit comedy, Tom, Dick, and Harry (1941), both featuring the brunette (some sources say she had dark red hair) that had fortunately become lighter and more lustrous over time. Colman had to suffer through the disappointment of his company's My Life with Caroline (also directed by Milestone), but was soon back in good standing with The Talk of the Town (1942) and Random Harvest (1942).
Director: Lewis Milestone
Producer: Harry E. Edington, George Haight
Screenplay: Allan Scott, John Van Druten, based on a story by Sacha Guitry (uncredited writing by George Haight, Edwin Justus Mayer, Lewis Milestone, and Franz Schulz)
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Ronald Colman (David Grant), Ginger Rogers (Jean Newton), Jack Carson (Frederick Harper), Spring Byington (Aunt Lucy), Cecilia Loftus (Mrs. Sylvester), Harry Davenport (Judge).
BW-100m. Closed Captioning.
by Rob Nixon