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Monday, October 1, 2012

LUCKY DEVILS (1933)

Here’s a story of close-knit men in a dangerous profession. They take crazy risks as a matter of course; laugh in the face of death; and when bad news comes, they order another round and cross the name of the departed off the chalkboard. That’s what they’re paid for. Women? Sure, a man needs a squeeze now & then. But don’t get too close or you might grow sentimental, hesitate on the job and put your partner in jeopardy. Sooner or later, she’ll become a jinx to you and maybe the whole outfit. So, toss your ‘lucky’ coin to see who grabs the next suicide mission. You know, the coin that's 'heads' on both sides. ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS/’39? Howard Hawks in his prime, right? No such luck. It’s LUCKY DEVILS, a B+ programmer that’s not about stoic Hawksian pilots, but daredevil Hollywood stuntmen. Made six years before with the same damn two-headed coin. Still, when they give the personal stories a rest, the stunts are a treat. There’s good behind-the-scenes backlot stuff and a wild opening that sneaks an ultra-violent bank robbery past the censors in the guise of a film-within-a-film. William Boyd & William Gargan don’t exactly generate a lot of heat as the leads, these eternal buds are just peppy boys at play. Where’s the homoerotic subtext? But there’s some pleasing gravitas from the supporting players and real, unexpected moviestar presence from a nice looking lug who goes by the name of Creighton Chaney. He’d (unfortunately) soon lose the lanky frame and switch his name to Lon Chaney, Jr. Typically, the big climax is the only scene that fakes the stunt work and uses miniatures, almost everything else is the real deal. And be sure to check out the fast-panning camera and zoom-lens work in the big fire disaster sequence. Most unusual for the day.

DOUBLE-BILL: ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS lets you compare this decent Hollywood programmer against a real cinematic champ. Or stick with this film’s occupation on Richard Rush’s over-wrought, but devilishly entertaining THE STUNT MAN/’80.

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