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Jinxed June: Lucky Partners (1940)

We’re feeling very lucky after a successful 2023 Picture Show, so we are turning the focus onto films that involve luck and fortune both good and bad for the month of June.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: Jean Newton (Ginger Rogers) passes by David Grant (Ronald Colman) and gets a hunch that he may be a good luck charm, and asks him to go in on a sweepstake ticket. David is okay with this idea, but only if she agrees to go on a world tour with him if they win. They don’t win the full prize, but they do wind up with a little cash, in a set of circumstances that I frankly consider too complicated to describe here. Anyway, they take what they’ve got and head off to Niagara Falls as brother and sister on a honeymoon. Wait…did I mention that Jean is engaged to Freddie Harper (Jack Carson in his breakout role) and they’re planning on moving to Poughkeepsie as soon as they’re married? Yeah, that happens too. If this sounds complicated, it’s frankly because it is, and the convoluted plot adds to a bit of screwball comedy flavor to this film.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: The story reads like a fever dream. It was written by French playwright Sacha Guitry and adapted by Allan Scott and John Van Druton. Modern Screen's reviewer Wolfe Kaufman wrote, "Have you ever thought of a very good idea and carried it out the best way you knew and it was okay, but somehow not what you thought it was going to be? That's Lucky Partners... You practically never burst out into long, loud laughter, but you constantly have a warm gratified feeling." I can't fathom why Carson's character would agree to having his fiancee go on a honeymoon to the honeymoon capitol of the world with a supposedly platonic friend when she is obviously uncomfortable with the situation and then change his mind and storm into the scenario like a jealous boyfriend.

RB: Frankly, Carson’s character is a dope, although his behavior is only truly explained by the fact that it’s necessary to move the convoluted plot along. The script is lacking in logic, but that sort of thing doesn’t particularly bother me.

SG: This was the only film Colman and Rogers made together, and I'm not surprised. They don't have much chemistry. He seems much older than she is, and her hesitancy about the whole thing doesn't make their romance ring true. Delight Evans at Screenland disagreed. "The last two people you'd ever think of as a team except possibly in a dream are Ronald Colman and Ginger Rogers-- yet strangely they go very well together." Rogers remembered her delight at being cast opposite Colman in her memoir. "Everything about him, from his voice to his gentlemanly manner, thrilled me. When I was at last introduced to Ronald Colman, he turned out to be as fine in real life as he was on the screen. His wife, Benita Hume, knew I had a crush on her husband. She decided I was harmless enough, and invited me to their home for many enjoyable evenings." I felt that the chemistry between Rogers and Carson was much better, and the studio must have agreed because they appeared in five other movies together. It was director Lewis Milestone who suggested Carson for the fiancee role, who had played mostly bit parts prior. Rogers felt he wasn't a big enough star, and Milestone pointed out her own humble beginnings until she relented.

RB: I’m also going to have to disagree with you here. I think Colman and Rogers have great chemistry in spite of the age difference. While Colman was 20 years older than Ginger, he was still regarded as a sophisticated sex symbol and for that reason, I think it works well enough. I do agree with you that Carson was particularly well cast and it doesn’t really speak well that Ginger didn’t think he’d work out. Although his filmography to this point comprised of dozens of small and sometimes uncredited roles in B’s, he’s more than capable here, and, while I’ll still maintain that he’s a dope, he does a nice job here.

SG: Rogers dyed her blonde hair dark for this movie, and the studio complained that it wasn't glamorous and that her fans would be disappointed. She retains her glamour in a series of costumes and hats by Irene, even though she is supposed to be a lowly clerk in a bookstore. She looks especially gorgeous in a scene where she writhes around on the bed in the moonlight, unable to sleep. Oddly enough Motion Picture Reviews' writer called her wardrobe, "most unflattering." Rogers might have agreed; she felt the dark hair color was a mistake and cringed as she watched the rushes, commenting negatively on her appearance.

RB: I’d have to disagree with her here as well. I think she looks absolutely gorgeous in this movie, and as you note, is beautifully photographed. Her gowns do seem kind of peculiar, but nothing in this movie is lifelike. As you said, the whole thing is like a fever dream.

SG: Milestone, whose name is synonymous with heavy, deep dramas like All Quiet on the Western Front, got his chance to craft comedy with this film and was only mildly successful. "Direction maintains the pace at a clip that all but eliminates dull moments," said The Movies... And the People Who Make Them's reviewer. Milestone took note of the press's spin on his comedies, which they announced as the director's "holiday."

RB: Milestone followed this up with another romantic comedy starring Ronald Colman, albeit one that is less known today than Lucky Partners, 1941’s My Life with Caroline. This film was produced by Colman’s production company, so it’s pretty clear that he felt that he worked well under Milestone’s direction.

SG: During the courtroom scene, Milestone had to put his charm to use on Harry Davenport, a trained stage actor who was seventy-five when this movie was shot. Colman kept blowing his lines, and Davenport got more and more exasperated until finally, he blew up, telling Colman to practice his lines with his valet before the shoot and to stop wasting his time. He threw off his robes and walked off set. Milestone had to chase him down and tell him a lighthearted story to get him to return. Milestone believed in Colman's talent and enjoyed him as a man. "If you took the trouble to wait until you got through that first layer of defense, he was warm and friendly."

All of the women wore hats in the courtroom scene. You'd never see something like that today. The scene also contains a ridiculous bit where Colman schizophrenically questions himself as a witness. I've heard judges specifically advise against this when explaining how court trials work to pro se defendants.

RB: The local response was all over the place on this one. “Don’t think it satisfied anyone in the audience. Ms. Rogers is no actress” griped E.H. Malone of the Alma Theatre in Alma, WS. “Very few enjoyed this one and I agree with them,” put of G.S. Caporal of the Yale Theatre in Oklahoma City, OK. Meanwhile, in Casey, IA, H.D. Furnice said this was “a very good show and everybody commented on it."

SG: Box Office magazine wrote, "Farce in it's broadest interpretation, delightfully underscored by an aura of whimsey during the first half of it's unreeling. The writers failed, however, to maintain that pitch and the story development in later sequences shifts toward the ludicrous."

RB: The Gulf Screen Guild Theater did an interesting, if truncated, radio adaptation with William Powell subbing for Colman and Rogers. He also handles the role pretty well.

Interestingly, a Massillon, OH theater ran a promotion where you had to write a 100 word essay explaining why the writer is lucky to have their partner. The winner got a “dream honeymoon” themselves. Two days and one night 55 miles up the road in Cleveland! I’m going to go with three and a half stars for this film. While I recognize that it is far from perfect, the personalities of the cast really appealed to me, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

SG: Three stars. Amusing, but it should have been better.

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