Mr. Lucky (1943), directed by H.C. Potter, is a confusing movie, teetering on the edges of screwball comedy and serious crime drama. Hidden inside this obscure corner of Cary Grant’s career is some of his best dramatic work between the usual comedy bits he could do in his sleep.
The film is set in the days just before the U.S. entered World War II and is based on a Cosmopolitan story by Milton Holmes. Grant stars as Joe Adams, a grifter and gambler who receives a draft notice. His evil partner Zepp (Paul Stewart) also gets a notice, and both are marked fit to serve. The two gamble over the identity of Joe Bascopolous, one of their goons who recently died and was marked not fit to serve, and Joe wins. Zepp later fails his physical anyway, which sets up problems for Joe later on.
After thinking that problem is squared away, Joe tackles his money flow problems by trying to con a war relief organization into hosing a gambling room during their next fundraising gala, then keep all the winnings for himself. There’s just one problem though: Joe’s cold heart starts to melt when he meets and falls in love with socialite Dorothy (Laraine Day of Foreign Correspondent and Dr. Kildare fame).
Although Mr. Lucky is not one of Grant’s best-known films, it still highlights every single one of his strengths. This is the film that gives us the hilarious image of Grant trying to knit, and another underrated scene where Joe teaches Dorothy rhyming slang. But it’s also the film that gives Grant an opportunity to flex his dramatic muscles when he delivers a great speech to Dorothy about how socialites look down on his kind of people.
However, the story is a little too tied up at the end. Its conclusion could have been even more powerful if a lovers’ reunion was not tacked on at the end.
Mr. Lucky also has a sterling supporting cast, including Charles Bickford as Joe’s friend Swede, the hilarious Alan Carney as “Crunk,” Gladys Cooper as the leader of the war relief organization and Paul Stewart as his usual slimy self. The great Henry Stephenson also plays Dorothy’s grandfather.
The Yale-educated Potter directed a handful of underrated movies, including one of the funniest in Grant’s career, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. His other credits include the final Astaire-Rogers movie The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and The Farmer’s Daughter, which won Loretta Young her Oscar.
Mr. Lucky is an easy film to recommend to Grant fans, and one that plays so well to his versatility as an actor. It can get a little mushy and some of the more serious stuff does not sit too well next to the comedy, but it is a good way to spend 100 minutes.
Mr. Lucky is now streaming on Filmstruck.