I was discussing classic films with a friend this week and we both agreed, any movie that stars Cary Grant is an automatic favorite film and a must-see. That bit of discussion set my brain to thinking about Cary Grant films and I decided that I should write about one of his more obscure films, but one that is still a good movie to view. Plus it features the hobby of knitting! Yes, Cary has to learn to knit in this film! It is 1943’s Mr. Lucky, produced by RKO studios and directed by H.C. Potter. It was bought by RKO from Milton Holmes’s story, “Bundles for Freedom” and he, along with Adrian Scott, wrote the screenplay. Grant’s co-stars in the film are Laraine Day, Charles Bickford, Gladys Cooper, Alan Carney, Paul Stewart, Kay Johnson, and Florence Bates.
This comedy-romance-drama, is set in New York City as World War II is raging. Grant plays Joe “The Greek” Adams, a gambler with a couple of problems. He and his gambling partner, Zepp(Paul Stewart), have received draft notices and neither of them wants to serve. They have to come up with a plan to get out of the draft. One of their gambling employees, Joe Bascopolous, has died and his draft status was 4F. Either Joe or Zepp can use Bascopolous’s identity so they decide to gamble for it. Zepp cheats but Joe wins and decides to now go by the name of Joe Bascopolous. The second problem for Joe is the lack of money to pay for his gambling ship. He wants to raise enough dough to take his ship down to Cuba. How will Joe find that bankroll of dough?
He finds it through a local War Relief organization, run by society ladies, and the head lady is Veronica Steadman, played by Gladys Cooper. Joe has to gain Mrs. Steadman’s trust, the trust of the other ladies at the organization, and the trust of wealthy society lady Dorothy Bryant, played by Laraine Day. Miss Bryant is beautiful, single, rich, and second-in-command at the War Relief organization, and Joe knows he has to have a positive influence on her if he is to gain Mrs. Steadman’s approval and money. To prove his trustworthiness, after he has pledged that he wants to join the group of ladies, he agrees to learn to knit! One of the daily tasks for the ladies is to knit socks and scarves for the soldiers overseas, and it is a very comical scene as Mrs. Van Every(Florence Bates) takes on the task with joy and energy of teaching Joe how to knit one and purl two! Seeing a handsome man in their midst is also quite an event for the ladies of the organization!
With all of the knitting going on, and Joe’s punctuality and his well-dressed and polite persona, he wins Mrs. Steadman and Miss Bryant over and soon they agree to a fundraising idea he has for the organization: a charity gambling night. Joe promises the ladies that they’ll raise enough money to outfit a relief ship. What Joe is really planning to do is supply the charity gambling event with cashboxes with false bottoms in them so Joe and his gambling outfit can steal the winnings and with that money, he can take his gang and his ship south to Cuba. However, a letter Joe receives that morning changes everything. Joe receives a letter from the real Joe Bascopolous’s mother in Greece. The letter is written in Greek and Joe is curious about it’s contents so he visits a nearby Greek Orthodox Church and asks the priest there to translate it for him. The letter informs Joe that the Nazis overran their village and how all of the Greek men died trying to protect their village. Joe thanks the priest for translating the letter and then heads to the nearest park bench, to sit and think about his life, in comparison to the brave Greek men’s lives.
When Joe arrives at the War Relief organization for the start of the Charity Casino Night, he tells his co-hort, Crunk,(Alan Carney), that he has decided to put all of the winnings towards the ladies’ goal for war relief. Zepp overhears this change in plans and decides to stop this from happening. At the end of the evening, Zepp pulls a gun on Joe and forces him to gather up the winnings. Dorothy accidentally enters the room and sees Joe collecting the money and assumes the worst about Joe, that he is really just a no-good gambler and crook. To protect Dorothy so she can’t be one of Zepp’s victims, Joe knocks her out,and then Joe manages to attack Zepp and kills him in self-defense, but also gets shot in the altarcation. Joe then escapes from the War Relief organization’s building.
Some days go by and Dorothy is feeling very low and stupid for having fallen for Joe and his offer to help the War Relief organization. One day a man arrives at the War Relief’s building. He introduces himself as Mr. Hard Swede, that he is a friend of Joe’s, and that Joe wanted him to give the ladies a packet. In the packet is the money that the ladies rightly earned through their Charity Casino night! Some more days go by and Dorothy is informed that Joe Bascopolous is dead. She asks to see a picture of Joe and it isn’t the Joe that she fell in love with. She learns that Bascopolous worked on a ship called the “Briny Marlin” and remembering some Australian slang phrases Joe had taught her one evening, she rushes to the docks, knowing that the ship and her Joe are probably there. Dorothy reaches the dock and sees the ship and Joe and begs him to take her with him. Joe has loaded his ship with war relief supplies and informs Dorothy that he is sailing to Europe and it will be too dangerous to take her with him. He treats her rudely, as he doesn’t want her to know his real feelings for her. A few weeks later, Dorothy finds out that the Briny Marlin was torpedoed on its return to New York City and sunk. Despite this awful news, Dorothy is confident that Joe somehow survived and she visits the dock each night waiting for his return.
The movie has a happy ending and I don’t want to reveal more to ruin it for the viewer. Suffice it to say that the movie was a huge hit with the audiences of 1943 and it earned a profit of $1, 603,000 at the box office. If you are a Cary Grant fan, or if you love knitting, if you want a film that has a bit of a deeper message than a typical romance-comedy, than seek out Mr. Lucky. The movie is available through Amazon.com, clips of it are on Youtube, and Turner Classic Movies will be airing it this weekend, on March 30th, at 10:30 p.m. CST.