' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Lucky Night (1939)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday's Old Fashioned: Lucky Night (1939)

Recently I saw someone somewhere on Twitter say something to the effect of: do you ever watch movies from the late thirties and think, “Hey, Hitler is at the height of his power right now”? I usually don’t, but I did as I watched Norman Taurog’s “Lucky Night”, an MGM screwball comedy featuring Myrna Loy and Robert Taylor that debuted theatrically in May 1939, just a few months ahead of Hitler kicking off WWII. That’s not to suggest the führer’s presence overtly looms over the proceedings. He is never mentioned, thank goodness, and the film is assuredly not a genuine drama, more a screwball comedy with earnest overtones, though that earnestness resonates. The Great Depression still lingered, after all, as the world was pitched at the doorstep of chaos, and both of these factors can be felt throughout “Lucky Night”, where the contrasting ideas of security and uncertainty run straight into each other.


That makes itself apparent from the get-go as Cora Jordan (Myrna Loy) politely rejects the offer of some moneyed suitor much to the chagrin of her father (Henry O’Neill), and then tells her pops she doesn’t want his help either. No, she wants to want it make it on her own, sort of akin to “Sullivan’s Travels”, yearning to live like a regular person rather than a pampered one, deliberately turning her back on all her family name provides and marching straight into the mean old world to see if she can survive, albeit all wrapped up in a fur coat. In no time she has met Bill Overton (Robert Taylor), homeless yet impeccably tailored, a byproduct of his homelessness stemming less from life than his own propensity to gamble what he has, and when he enlists her in a small scheme, they win big, and then bigger still, getting drunk and tying the knot.

That sort of plot development sounds ripe for requisite rom shenanigans, particularly when Cora’s impulsive union makes the morning papers and causes her father to come looking for her. You can see their Lucky Night give way to a Morning of Regret and then an Afternoon and Evening of falling in love all over again and deciding they do want to be married. That isn’t on the movie’s mind, however, as even if the early hours induce pangs of regret, Cora and Bill quickly set those aside to try and make this marriage work.

Loy and Taylor play their post-marital scenes less with a rom com bliss than a kind of manic insistence, incessantly throwing their arms around one another, not so much whispering sweet nothings as shouting affirmations, doing up their apartment to emphatically demonstrate it as a domestic haven, throwing themselves into this like they think they should, like him going off to work every morning with a massive smile plastered to his face, evoking more artificiality than authenticity. And even if Cora comes to appreciate the security this regimented lifestyle provides, Bill almost instantly sours on it. Indeed, a shot on their living room sofa as he dejectedly attempts to explain his longing for “the fun” to start mirrors the shot when they first meet, where he is spread out across a park bench at night, poor, perhaps, but also wholly cool and uncaring.


Frankly, “Lucky Night” doesn’t quite know how to resolve this difference of lifestyle opinion, splitting them up as Cora returns to live with her father while Bill gets good and drunk and then shows up at Cora’s home to say his piece to her father and then skedaddle. Instead, Cora’s father gets drunk with Bill, and Bill falls asleep in Cora’s bed where she finds him, assuming he has come to patch things up, the movie ending with them in a confused kind of embrace. Maybe that’s right. Maybe when Hitler was at the peak of his power all you could do was get drunk and hope things would work themselves out on their own.

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