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March 24, 2023

Lucky Jordan


Frank Tuttle - 1942
KL Studio Classics

Lucky Jordan was the second of three films Alan Ladd made with director Frank Tuttle. Coming after his breakout role in This Gun for Hire, it was also Ladd’s first with star billing. Ladd's final collaboration with Tuttle, Hell on Frisco Bay from 1955 provides a kind of bookend marking the end of a commercial plateau in the actor’s career. Tuttle has generally been considered a competent, if uneven, journeyman director. His most stylish thriller, Gunman in the Streets made in France in 1950 while under investigation by the House of Un-American Activities, stars Simone Signoret and Dane Clark, and is worth a look for being made without totally adhering to the Hollywood production code.

We never know if Lucky Jordan actually has a conventional first name because everyone calls him Lucky. The film itself defies easy categorization with its blend of gangster drama, spy thriller and wartime comedy, in addition to tonal shifts. Jordan is the top gangster of a gambling operation in a large, unnamed city. His second-in-command, Slim, tries and fails to bump him off, coveting the big chair in the well-appointed office that serves as a legitimate front. Jordan finds out that he has been drafted and can not get out of it. Through a series of circumstances that only happen in the movies, Jordan manages to go AWOL, kidnap Jill, a pretty canteen worker, and get hold of a briefcase with military information that he is willing to sell to the highest bidder.

There is some resemblance to Sam Fuller’s Pickup of South Street, made almost a decade later. In Fuller’s film, the career criminal is asked to act upon a sense of patriotism in making sure that the unintentionally stolen microfilm does not get turned over to "enemy agents". While out on the lam, Jill explains to Jordan why she volunteered to work at an army base and why she is anti-Nazi. Jordan’s own shift may have more to do with the Nazi spies being a totally untrustworthy bunch. Here is where some extra context is needed as the film was produced when U.S. involvement in the war was only a few months old. There was still a significant number of Americans who were either isolationists or simply did not favor what was considered a foreign war with Germany. (Anti-Japanese sentiment would be a different matter.) Setting aside the leftist politics of Tuttle, the U.S. government has actively encouraged Hollywood to make films that would serve as propaganda to influence popular opinion. Lucky Jordan does the right thing, if not necessarily for the right reason.

The politics are lightly served. What makes Lucky Jordan enjoyable include Sheldon Leonard as Slip, the gangster who can never outwit Jordan, playing on his typecasting as the heavy, Helen Walker in her film debut as Jill, the actress’ last name more notable with two scenes involving her legs, and Alan Ladd’s smart-aleck remarks throughout much of the film. The high point is Jordan’s relationship with the elderly Annie (Mabel Paige), a grifter begging for quarters to spend on alcohol. Paid to pose as Jordan’s needy mother at the draft board hearing, the two develop an ad hoc mother and son relationship both comic and sentimental.

Samm Deighan provided the commentary track. In addition to discussing the main cast and crew, Deighan places Lucky Jordan as part of the films portraying espionage in the early years of World War II as well as general societal shifts during that time. In Deighan’s talking about Frank Tuttle’s career and his eventual choice to provide names to HUAC, there is the confusion, also perpetuated by others, in mixing the blacklisting of Hollywood communists or sympathizers with the completely separate activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 24, 2023 01:24 PM


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