Lucky Lady

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Lucky Lady
Lucky lady poster.jpg
Theatrical poster by Richard Amsel
Directed byStanley Donen
Written byGloria Katz
Willard Huyck
Produced byMichael Gruskoff
StarringLiza Minnelli
Gene Hackman
Burt Reynolds
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byPeter Boita
Music byRalph Burns
Gruskoff/Venture Films
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
December 25, 1975 (1975-12-25)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$12.1 million[1][2]
Box office$24.4 million[3]

Lucky Lady is a 1975 American comedy-drama film directed by Stanley Donen and starring Liza Minnelli, Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds and Robby Benson. Its story takes place in 1930 during Prohibition in the United States.

The film is notable for serving as a storefront for George Lucas and Gary Kurtz who were looking for crew to assist with the look of Star Wars. Both visited the set during production and were impressed with what they saw. Several of the predominantly British crew were effectively recruited during this visit.


Late in the Prohibition era, Claire is an American living in Tijuana, Mexico. After her husband, who owned a dive bar, dies, she wants to return to the United States. Walker Ellis, a loser with whom she has long been having an affair, agrees to help wind up her business in Tijuana, which includes smuggling a last truckload of illegal Mexican immigrants across the border; this does not go according to plan.

Walker is forced to go into business rum running across the border with Kibby Womack, one of those he was trying to smuggle across the border (as Kibby is also in trouble with the U.S. government). Instead of moving the goods overland, Walker hires Billy Mason to captain a sailboat to transport the contraband via water. While Billy is wise to the ways of the sea, he is unwise to the ways of the world. As Walker, Claire, Kibby, and Billy navigate the waters on this venture, they find two inherent risks. The first is the U.S. Coast Guard, led by the irritatingly officious Captain Moseley, who patrols these waters. Moseley and the Coast Guard can do nothing against vessels in international waters unless there is a sign of illegal cargo or a sale of illegal merchandise. Instead, Moseley works to "starve" rum runners, who can only sail up and down the coast, blocked from entering a U.S. port.

The second hazard is other rum runners. While the small players generally leave each other alone, the East Coast mob has sent Christie McTeague to establish a foothold then a stranglehold on the entire West Coast Mexico–U.S. trade. Through it all, Claire has convinced Kibby and an initially reluctant Walker that their three partner business should extend into the bedroom.




Katz and Huyck at the time were best known for writing American Graffiti. Before that film came out they were struggling writers, looking for an original project. While Huyck was in the Army reserves, Katz was in the UCLA library "looking for anything for an idea."[4] She came across an article in American Mercury magazine about rumrunners operating off Ensenada during prohibition and, feeling that it had never been used for a film before, started researching the period. When Huyck got out of the army they brought the idea to Mike Gruskoff, a producer, who liked the similarities to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and agreed to finance them writing it for $75,000[4]

They worked on the script for six months. "It took us a long time to get our characters down," said Katz. "We tried it a lot of different ways. And we did a lot of research into the period and the language."[4]

When they handed the script in, Gruskoff sold the film within eighteen hours to 20th Century Fox for $450,000, which was then a record amount for an original screenplay. They were helped by the fact that American Graffiti had since come out and been a huge success.[4][5]

"Mike Gruskoff was incredible, just incredible at selling a script," said Katz. "He got it immediately to the heads of the studios and he sold it very, very fast."[4]

The producer paid the writers $100,000 of the $450,000.[6]


The writers wanted Steven Spielberg to direct and he was interested but had made a commitment to do Jaws.[7] Eventually Stanley Donen signed.[8] Donen's fee was $600,000, Grusskoff's was $400,000.[9]

Katz said, "our reaction was, Stanley Donen seems so bizarre for this kind of film! Then we realized he's the ideal director because he is really a romantic director, and he can do this kind of character stuff and the kind of humor that the film has."[4]

Some changes to the script were made. "Stanley wanted very much to play up the relationships, the menage-à-trois," said Huyck. "Which was fine with us. The script was probably overloaded with action since we wanted to sell it. Actually, action is boring to write. We have much more fun with dialogue."[4]

"Stanley's big emphasis to us is that you must love the characters," said Katz. "And any place he feels the characters are being lost, he wants us to put in something to develop the characters further. "[4]


The writers said their inspiration for the lead characters were Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.[4]

It took 18 months for Donen to cast the film. Donen says this was due to problems with billing, pay and the fact the woman's role was central made it difficult to find male stars to play opposite her.[6]

"We thought the idea of three stars was a terrific notion because it would make Lucky Lady very salable and very castable," said Katz. "Ironically, it made it salable, but casting turned out to be a very big problem because one of the three stars was a woman. A lot of male actors didn't want to be in an ensemble piece or a piece with a woman as a strong character."[4]

The only two female stars considered "bankable" at the time were Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. Minnelli was the first star cast, for a minimum of $350,000.[9][2] Donen originally wanted Paul Newman, who also wanted Spielberg to direct,[10] and Warren Beatty for the lead male roles with production scheduled to begin in October 1974. However the stars could not be locked down.

Later, in November 1974, Burt Reynolds was signed along with George Segal.[11] Huyck said Reynolds "didn't really like doing macho roles, he didn't want to play the tough guy role, he wanted the silly part."[2] Reynolds' fee was reportedly $500,000, Segal's $750,000.[9]

Reynolds said it was "very important" the film was a success "since my last three films went down the tubes."[6]

Segal later dropped out of the project and was quickly replaced with Hackman.[12]

Gene Hackman initially did not want to do the film, but 20th Century Fox kept offering him more and more money. Finally, Fox offered him $1.25 million, and according to talent agent Sue Mengers, "it was almost obscene for him not to do the film."[13] "I was seduced," said Hackman.[6]


Filming began in Guaymas, Mexico in February 1975 and finished in July of that year. It was an exceedingly difficult shoot, compounded by the isolation of the location, poor weather, and the fact so much of it was shot on water.[6]

"I remember water," said Minnelli later. "For days. And shrimp. That's all we ate – shrimp. We were stranded. There was no TV, no radio, no American papers. The only way we knew what was going on away from the location was by telephone."[14]

The film went over budget to nearly $13 million.[8] Other estimates put it as high as $22 million.[15]

The artist Lilly Fenichel served as the film's art director.[16]

"I will never make another film on water," said Donen later. "I can't tell you how painful it is."[6]

"I'm going bananas," said Hackman during the shoot. "The work is not satisfying."[6]

Reynolds later recalled:

I loved Liza Minnelli and Gene Hackman, and I loved the Jack Lemmon kind of character I played, but there were times when I felt Stanley Donen was petrified and lost. Scared of the boats, scared of the explosions, of the gunshots. I'd look at him between takes and he'd be like this [crouching with hands over his head]. But the bedroom scene with the three of us was so beautifully done. I remember going to rushes and saying, "This is going to be a winner – it really works." It was a beautifully mounted picture, but the last forty minutes, the battle, was not his kind of film. Nobody knew what was happening and you didn't care for the characters.[17]

New ending[edit]

In the original script, the two male leads were killed by government agents and the final scene happened ten years later with Liza Minnelli's character married to a boring businessman remembering the men she once loved. The writers said when they sold it, "The studio loved the script, and at that point no one objected to the ending."[8]

"One of the first images in our minds when we began to work on the script was the ending," said Katz. "The idea of this woman remembering the two men she loved. We worked backwards from that. To us, the romance of the piece was in the idea of separation and loss.[8]

Because the film was booked in for a Christmas release, Donen only had three months to edit the film. During this time Donen became concerned about the ending, feeling that the film had become much lighter than originally intended, and tried several different ones, including simply cutting off the final ten minutes. He eventually decided the film needed a happy ending and Fox agreed to finance a reshot scene. Because Minnelli was filming A Matter of Time in Rome, Donen, Hackman and Reynolds flew to Rome in November and shot a new ending.[8] The ending consisted of the three characters in bed together ten years later.[18]

Huyck and Katz wrote the new ending, albeit reluctantly. "To us the original ending made a comment about the choices a woman has to make. But instead of making it the story of this woman, Stanley has made it a story of three people. That's valid. It's just different from what we originally intended."[8]

Garth Wigan, a Fox executive at the time, later recalled, "We previewed the movie nine times. The 2-hour, 30-minute version was wonderful. Burt Reynolds and Liza Minelli died at the end and everything was set up for them to die. But market research told us they shouldn't die, so we started chopping a bit here, a bit there. We took the seriousness out. The only good preview we had was when the film broke, and Stanley Donen, the director, did a dance for the audience while it was being spliced."[19]

It was decided that the new ending was not suitable, in part due to poor make up. So a third ending was used, which cut off the last ten minutes of the film.[18]

Minnelli later criticized Donen for taking "out the part that made you feel like the three of us are in peril. I saw the finished picture and I never once was afraid for us. Most of the serious moments were removed too."[14]

Reynolds and Minnelli both criticized the new ending, requesting that the studio show the three different endings to the press. Donen refused and since he had final cut the studio backed him. Donen called Minnelli an "emotional child" for this criticism.[18]


The film opened on Christmas Day 1975.[20]


Roger Ebert gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and called it "a big, expensive, good-looking flop of a movie; rarely is so much effort expended on a movie so inconsequential."[21] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "ridiculous without the compensation of being funny or fun. This is difficult to understand, considering the people who are involved."[22] Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "This mercenaries' film is so coarsely conceived it obliterates any emotion, any art."[23] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called the film "strident, forced hokum. Stanley Donen's film caroms from one sequence to another with pointless abandon ... This is a major disappointment."[24] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and stated, "There's an arrogance to this project I don't like. Apparently the filmmakers believed that the public would be sufficiently impressed with the antics of Gene, Liza, and Burt that it wouldn't care if the story made sense."[25] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times declared, "By squinting hard in the mind's eye, you can almost make out what it was that made 'Lucky Lady' seem worth doing. The movie we actually see is a cynical, vulgar, contrived, mismated, violent, uneven and uninteresting disaster."[26] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "If you were looking forward to an entertainment with a little class ... 'Lucky Lady' ... is likely to prove a resounding letdown. Despite all the big-time reputations involved, class is the last word that would spring to mind while one was watching the film."[27]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $2,265,103 in its opening weekend (Thursday to Sunday) from 213 cities.[28] It went on to earn theatrical rentals of $12.1 million in the United States and Canada.[29][1]

Home media[edit]

The film went unreleased on DVD until February 1, 2011 via Shout! Factory.[30]

Additional information[edit]

This film was also released under the following titles:

  • Abenteurer auf der Lucky Lady - West Germany
  • Belali sevgili - Turkey
  • I tyheri kyria - Greece (transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title)
  • In 3 sul Lucky Lady - Italy
  • Los aventureros de Lucky Lady - Spain
  • Oh, vilket sjöslag! - Sweden
  • Os aventureiros de Lucky Lady - Brazil (TV title)
  • Tre smarte smuglere på 'Lucky Lady' - Denmark
  • Uma Mulher dos Diabos - Portugal (imdb display title)
  • Una dama con suerte - Venezuela
  • Viskiseikkailu Lucky Ladyllä - Finland


  • "Empty Bed Blues" - Written by J.C. Johnson, Performed by Bessie Smith
  • "Ain't Misbehavin'" - Music by Fats Waller and Harry Brooks, Lyrics by Andy Razaf, Performed by Burt Reynolds
  • "A Hot Time in the Old Town" - Music by Theo. A. Metz, Lyrics by Joe Hayden, Performed by Bessie Smith
  • " (Get) While the Getting is Good" - Written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Performed by Liza Minnelli
  • "Lucky Lady Montage" - Written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Performed by Liza Minnelli
  • "Lucky Lady (reprise)" - Written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Performed by Liza Minnelli


A month before the release of the film, Bantam Books issued a tie-in novelization of the screenplay by historical fiction writer Cecelia Holland under the pseudonym "Julia Rood." It achieved some minor notoriety at the time for retaining the original ending, which reflected the earlier draft script from which Holland worked.


  1. ^ a b Byron, Stuart (March–April 1977). "SECOND ANNUAL GROSSES GLOSS". Film Comment. Vol. 13, no. 2. New York. pp. 35–37, 64.
  2. ^ a b c From low-budgets to 'Lucky Lady': Married co-workers make $12 million film By Nora E. Taylor. The Christian Science Monitor 24 Dec 1975: 11.
  3. ^ "Lucky Lady, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gloria Katz-Willard Huyck Interview Warren, Madeline; Levine, Robert A. Film Comment; New York Vol. 11, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1975): 47-53.
  5. ^ Screenwriter as Star: Shaking the Shackles Laskos, Andrew. Los Angeles Times 29 Aug 1976: k1.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g 'Lucky Lady' Filming Just Plain Unlucky: 'Lucky' Filming Plain Unlucky 'Lucky' Filming Plain Unlucky 'Lucky' Filming Plain Unlucky Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 29 June 1975: t1.
  7. ^ "FORTUNE AND GLORY: Writers of Doom! Quint interviews Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz!" Aint It Cool New 23 May 2014 accessed 23 April 2015
  8. ^ a b c d e f Why Couldn't This 'Lady' Have an Unhappy Ending?: Why No Unhappy Ending for 'Lady'? By STEPHEN FARBER. New York Times 14 Dec 1975: D1.
  9. ^ a b c 'Inferno' 'Lady' Pile Up Payrolls Los Angeles Times 26 Nov 1974: e6.
  10. ^ Freer, Ian (9 May 2014). "Steven Spielberg's Interstellar?! The 19 Films He Nearly Made". Empire (film magazine). Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  11. ^ That's Liza With an 'L' for Lucky Los Angeles Times 19 Nov 1974: f9.
  12. ^ "Burt Reynolds Goes Two-for-Two on Xmas". Video Junkie. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  13. ^ Litwak, Mark (1986). Reel Power: The Struggle for Influence and Success in the New Hollywood. New York: William Morrow and Company. p. 86. ISBN 0-688-04889-7.
  14. ^ a b Minnelli talks movies and gets the pictures Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune 19 Sep 1976: e3.
  15. ^ Focus on Filmland: Young Screenwriters, New Hollywood Breed, Zoom to Superstardom They Receive Up to $400,000 For Scripts and the Right To Direct Own Material Crisp Nostalgia or Rehash? Focus of Filmland: Screenwriters Are Zooming to New Superstardom By EARL C. GOTTSCHALK JR. Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Wall Street Journal 31 July 1975: 1.
  16. ^ "Lilly Fenichel: 'I Don't Make Hemline Art' (1984)". ARTLines Archive, July 30, 2011. Originally published 1984.
  17. ^ McBride, Joseph & Riley, Brooks. "'The End' is just the beginning". Film Comment; New York Vol. 14, Iss. 3, (May/Jun 1978): 16-21.
  18. ^ a b c Murphy, Mary (December 17, 1975). "Fox's 'Lucky Lady' at Loose Ends".: Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 19-20.
  19. ^ HOLLYWOOD'S SNEAKY WAY OF TESTING FILMS New York Times 17 May 1981: A.1.
  20. ^ "Rosenfield: 150 Junketeers Cost Less Than 4 TV 30 Sec. Blurbs". Variety. November 12, 1975. p. 30. Retrieved June 27, 2022 – via
  21. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 29, 1975). "Lucky Lady". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 31, 2020 – via
  22. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 26, 1975). "Screen: 'Lucky Lady' Is Misnomer of Miscast and Mismanaged Comedy". The New York Times. 47.
  23. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 29, 1975). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 52.
  24. ^ Murhpy, Arthur D. (December 17, 1975). "Film Reviews: Lucky Lady". Variety. p. 23.
  25. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 26, 1975). "Luck runs out on 'Lucky Lady'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 1.
  26. ^ Champlin, Charles (December 28, 1975). "'Lucky Lady' Sails Without a Compass". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
  27. ^ Arnold, Gary (December 25, 1975). "A Tacky 'Lady' Who Might Get Lucky". The Washington Post. p. H1.
  28. ^ "Lucky Lady Is Off To A Sensational Start (advertisement)". Variety. December 31, 1975. pp. 8–9.
  29. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  30. ^ "Lucky Lady, 1975". Amazon. February 2011. Retrieved May 15, 2012.

External links[edit]