Lucky Partners (1940, Lewis Milestone)

Any movie with a Somerset Maugham reference like this one (to The Moon and Sixpence) is going to get me to go a little soft on it, but given how late the reference fully realizes, Lucky Partners was already reasonably safe. When I saw Lewis Milestone directed it, I knew there’d at least be some nice camerawork and Ginger Rogers RKO comedies are also generally decent. I just realized, thinking about it, Lucky Partners is only the second film I’ve seen starring Ronald Colman, which is a mistake. Colman glides through the film. Most of it is his scenes and he carries the whole thing with geniality. From the fourth shot–the film has a nice Milestone opening, so I can remember the shots–Colman’s the whole thing… which is amusing, but also problematic, because Ginger Rogers and Jack Carson’s characters suffer so Colman can remain the protagonist.

The film makes a number of assertions and changes them to keep the film moving. First, Rogers is likable. Then, she isn’t. Then, she is. Then, she isn’t. First, Carson is a jerk. Then, he’s not. Then, he’s an even bigger jerk. First, the film’s set up as a wonderful neighborhood piece with a great supporting cast. Then it becomes a road picture. Then it becomes a slightly mystical romance. Then it becomes a courtroom comedy. The first act of the film moves fast–twenty-five minutes went by in a snap–but the end of the second act drags, as the film desperately tries to tie itself up. The opening is strong and I kept hoping the film would regain some of that quality as it moved through its ninety-degree squiggles–and the film kept showing potential for said recovery–but it never did. The film’s lowest point was just before it declared itself a charming and mediocre comedy. Harry Davenport as the judge, who’s enamored with Rogers, clangs that change.

Given the excellent quality of Ginger Rogers’s other RKO features, Lucky Partners should be a bigger disappointment, but it’s such a pleasant viewing experience, it’s hard to get particularly upset. In fact, I think the film’s a major achievement. Though he’s a wonderful director, Milestone rarely made good films. And Lucky Partners is so close to good, it counts.

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