Monday, September 5, 2016

Dead Lucky (1960)

Dead Lucky is a 1960 British crime B-movie. British B-movies of this era, made on meagre budgets, are often surprisingly excellent. Unfortunately Dead Lucky is far from excellent - in fact it misses the target rather badly.

Ace reporter Mike Billings (Vincent Ball) has been doing a series of articles exposing the Mayfair gambling party racket. The gambling racketeers hire private houses on a one-off basis, taking advantage of Britain’s excessively complex and contradictory gaming laws. The police find it almost impossible to prove that this is actually organised gambling rather than the private gatherings that the organisers claim. Inspector Corcoran (John le Mesurier) is under a lot of pressure, particularly after a ruined gambler commits suicide, but he just can’t come up with the evidence he needs to make a case that would stand up in court.

Mike Billings is under pressure as well. His articles so far have been pure fabrication - he actually knows nothing concrete about these so-called gambling parties. His editor, Percy Simpson (Michael Ripper), is getting increasingly restive. Finally Mike gets a break. Small-time crook Knocker Parsons (Alfred Burke) gets him into one of the parties, with Mike posing as a waiter.

Mike’s girlfriend, Feisty Girl Reporter Jenny Drew (Betty McDowall), has also found a way to infiltrate the same gambling party.

This party ends in murder, with Jenny as a suspect. Inspector Corcoran now has a murder case on his hands and his anxiety to make an arrest is matched only by his lack of any real evidence. Both Mike and Corcoran are now desperate for a lead but which one of them will manage to break the case first?

The plot is a bit on the thin side but the real problem is that this movie seems to be trying to be a comedy and a mystery. It ends up being neither fish nor fowl. It’s just not funny enough to work as a comedy but the attempt to play it for laughs fatally weakens the mystery and suspense elements.

Vincent Ball is an uninspiring star while Betty McDowall is somewhat irritating. Even the usually reliable and professional John le Mesurier seems all at sea. He was certainly adept at comedy but here he’s the one actor trying to play things straight. It’s quite possible he just gave up in despair and decided to get things over as painlessly as possible and collect his pay cheque and go home. I can’t blame him. Alfred Burke and Michael Ripper try very hard indeed but with such an indifferent script there’s little they can do except to look as enthusiastic as possible.

Montgomery Tully was a competent journeyman director but in this film he’s just going through the motions.

The DVD cover tries to convince us this movie is “noir-influenced” - while noir and gambling do tend to go well together I could detect no genuine noir influence here at all.

Since the 1930s film producers had been seduced by the idea of combining the murder mystery or crime thriller with comedy. Sometimes it does work but more often than not it doesn’t. To make it work you need a script with real sparkle and with decent gags. If you don’t have those ingredients you’re better off just making a straightforward murder mystery, or at the very least keeping the comedic elements to an absolute minimum.

Network’s DVD is barebones but the transfer is pretty good.

Dead Lucky (the title is a pun and turns out to be the only mildly amusing thing about the movie) just doesn’t make the grade. As a murder mystery it falls flat. It’s hoping to be lightweight fun. It succeeds in being lightweight but it fails to deliver on the fun front. 

To be honest I don’t think this one is even worth a rental.

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