Time: 100 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
I though I had seen all of Grant's better films, so I was somewhat taken by surprise by the darkly, engaging performance he turns in here. Perhaps his role as a scheming draft dodger who finds his sense of honor and duty through the love of a good woman (and her charity) hit a bit too close to home, enabling Grant, who refused to volunteer for military service, to tap into his true emotions. It's easy to imagine the guilt many of those safe in Hollywood must have felt as they continued to succeed in their careers while thousands of young men died for the cause. That being said, one can hardly blame Grant and others for looking after their own hides, putting their talents to a better use by helping to lift the morale of the nation. While not exactly a sacrifice, it's better than doing nothing. Besides, dying on a battlefield may be honorable, but it's a hell of a way to exit this world.
Thankfully, MR. LUCKY makes its' patriotic point in more honest and subtle ways than most of its' compatriots produced at that time. The catalyst of Grant's reformation from worthless gambler to honest businessman is fairly heavy-handed, yet his change of heart is shot in such a way that his inner battle is center stage, not the message being delivered. Though playing a schemer, it's hard to fully believe Grant as a ruthless crook, so his transformation is more of an eye-opening return to decency than a total reformation of character. The film begins as a somewhat light-hearted romantic lark, than slowly reveals itself to be a deeper tale of love and redemption. Joe's (Grant) plan to bilk a war relief charity of the money raised at their upcoming benefit becomes his salvation, though not exactly in the way he anticipated. He manages to charm all the ladies except Dorothy Bryant (Day), who doesn't trust him as far as she could throw him.
She knows he's up to no good, but falls for him despite his dubious methods in solving the charities money issues. Unexpectedly, Joe finds himself equally smitten, never having been trusted or taken seriously by such a classy dame before. Her beauty and dedication to the cause starts to take its' toll on his willingness to swindle the charity, even though their one night take would set him and his boys up for quite some time. A twist of fate, in the form of a letter addressed to the man whose identity he's hiding under, crumbles whatever resolve he had left. On the night of the benefit, Joe's ex-partner (Bickford), lacking the same moral fiber, returns to claim what isn't his, aided in his commandeering of the loot by some of Joe's own men. The battle of wills ends poorly for all, costing one man his life, the other his livelihood and Dorothy the man of her dreams. Since this was filmed during wartime, the story ends on a note of hope that's not exactly believable, yet is undeniably satisfying.
The plot is far from complicated, but the honest emotions conjured up by Grant and Day more than make up for that shortcoming. Their chemistry lacks the spark that would make this one of the great bittersweet romances; however, they clearly form a deep understanding and intimate connection that leaves one desperately praying for their relationship to work out. This is my first encounter watching Laraine Day, who gives the usual socialite-with-a-cause role real spunk, intelligence and openness. She even makes you believe that she's not totally snowed by Grant's phony schemes and cleft chin...at least for the first half of the film. Though simple, the story generates great suspense as the film ticks on thanks to solid writing and good performances. It's certainly no Hitchcock, but it's far more entertaining and exciting than I thought it would be as the opening credits rolled by. For Grant fans, this is one to seek out. A film that gives him the chance to stretch his muscles a bit. He's still as charming as ever, he just learns a little about himself along the way.