DVD: The Lousy Lucky Lady and the Screenwriters Who Sank It

Screenwriters, we are often told, rarely get the credit they deserve when a movie becomes a classic. Fans heap praise on the stars and director but rarely get around to giving the ink-stained wretches their due. Of course, blame tends to follow the same path, with those visible targets getting the loudest raspberries when a movie tanks. So in discussing Lucky Lady (making its DVD debut this week from Shout! Factory), let's put aside its sterling cast of Liza Minnelli (in her follow-up to Cabaret), Gene Hackman, and Burt Reynolds, and its legendary director, Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain, Charade). Let's talk about the writers.

The married duo of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz are like the Little Girl Who Had a Little Curl (or, if you prefer, like Courtney Love): When they are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they are awful.

On the plus side, Huyck and Katz gave us the screenplay for American Graffiti, and they collaborated again with George Lucas for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a movie that gets roundly pooh-poohed by some fans of the Indy series but championed by others. (Well, by me, anyway.) They also collaborated on the early-'70s cult horror classic Messiah of Evil. So far, so good.

The terrible movie of Huyck and Katz, however, aren't just ordinary, run-of-the-mill yawners. Oh, no. These two have written movies so legendarily awful that they continue to serve as cautionary tales. These are movies that send chills down the colon of studio executives and movie fans alike. Howard the Duck. Best Defense. Radioland Murders.

And Lucky Lady, a movie that had everything going for it (including a catchy Kander-Ebb title song for Liza to sing) but winds up just lying there. I've never seen the movie with an audience (only on its exceedingly rare cable TV appearances) but I can just imagine the anticipation level of 1975 moviegoers, based on the the legends in front of and behind the camera, and how the unspooling of Lucky Lady must have sucked the air out of the room as it gradually became obvious that this leaky vessel was going nowhere. Slowly.

This is one of those classic cases of a Hollywood deal memo that was probably much more riveting than the movie itself. And look, if someone's going to take the time and energy to put the mid-career duds of Burt Reynolds out on DVD, could the bizarre (yet oddly charming) At Long Last Love please be next?


  • henderson says:

    Seeing Robbie Benson getting blown away by John Hillerman had a certain something to it though you have to admit.

  • sheila fenton says:

    Loved "At Long Last Love"..along with "Johnny Dangerously" my guilty pleasures of that era.

  • john foster says:

    So, Stanley Donen was forced at gunpoint to use a rubbish script? Minelli, Hackman and Reynolds were similarly co-erced? And as for the producer. . .
    Writer's write what they're paid to write. It always gets changed. Okay, Huyck and Katz were possibly out of their depth. But unless you've seen the original script and all the re-writes demanded by the director and/or producer and/or stars; and sat in on all the script meetings, you can't know WTF happened. Try reading 'Adventures In The Screen Trade' by William Goldman, one of the best descriptions of how movies really get made ever written.

  • Mark says:

    I remember seeing this movie in the theater, but I don't remember anything about it, which may mean that I didn't think it was very good. I do seem to remember something about a boat, I think.

  • FilmFather says:

    The close-up of Robbie Benson lying dead with his eyes open traumatized me as a kid when Lucky Lady played on HBO in the late '70s.

  • Chris says:

    This article isn't exactly fair. Lucky Lady is fairly obscure now but at the time it was well known in the industry that the script was extensively re-written, and in the fact the original ending was reshot at the studio's beset, against the wishes of Donen and the writers.