Friday, May 11, 2018

Time's passage may have left 'Lucky Ghost' behind

Lucky Ghost (aka "Lady Luck") 1942
Starring: Mantan Moreland, E.F. Miller, Maceo Bruce Sheffield, Florence O'Brien, Arthur Ray, Jessie Brooks, Nappie Whiting, and Henry Hastings
Director: William Beaudine (as William X. Crowley)
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Riding an incredible wave of luck in craps games, two vagabonds (Miller and Moreland), have the chance to become set for life when the irritable operator of an illicit club and casino (Sheffield) bets his entire operation against them on a single winner-takes-all die roll. The ghost of the former owner (Hastings) may have other plans, however.

"Lucky Ghost" may be one of those films that's more interesting as a historical artifact than something that modern viewers should seek out for entertainment. It's rife with the common mid-career weaknesses of most William Beaudine-helmed films--like scenes and jokes that could have been impactful or funny but which are padded well-past the point of even being interesting--and a whole lot of race-based humor that will cause the 21st Century Woke Set to suffer strokes before the halfway mark.

That last bit is perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the film. "Lucky Ghost" is what is termed a 'race picture'--a film made specifically for a black audience during a time when the United States was racially segregated, so there was a market for films to be shown at movie theaters for all-black audiences. Despite this, the all-black line-up of characters in "Lucky Ghost" are almost without fail what today is viewed as racially insensitive and negative stereotypes, far more so than other 'race pictures' I've watched (which, admittedly, aren't very many). Perhaps these caricatures were to the audience back then as stoners or nerds are to viewers of comedies today and were recognized as exaggerations of existing people and not something to get huffy over?

One thing that should still speak just fine to modern audiences, and the best part of the film, is the interplay between stars Mantan Moreland and E.F. Miller. This is one of a handful of films they were teamed in, and they function as a black version of Abbott & Costello, with Miller being the straight man and Moreland providing the antics. I think I've expressed my affection for Moreland in every review of a movie I've seen him in, and it's no different here. All by himself, Moreland brings this film from a Low Four rating to a Low Five... and his presence might have made an even stronger impact if not for some of the scenes where I am certain that Beaudine padded the running time by including all takes on a bit where only one, or two at most, should have been included. Moreland is particularly funny during the gambling scenes, and in a couple of scenes where he is leering at the butts or cleavages of the casino's hostesses and making not-so-subtle innuendos. While the film is labled as having passed the Review Board in the opening credits, one wonders which Hayes Commission censor was sleeping on the job that day!

Another aspect that lifts this film a bit above many other horror-comedies of the period is the nature of ghosts. More often than not, hauntings in these pictures turn out to be hoaxes or misinterpretations of perfectly normal and natural events. No so here; in "Lucky Ghost", the filmmakers go fill-tilt with the phantoms, even treating the audience to what special effects the meager budget could allow. It's a nice change of pace.

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