Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Frank Tuttle
Released July 13, 1925
Cast: Richard Dix (Bill Phelps), Esther Ralston (Doris Kent), Edna May Oliver (Aunt Abbie Kent), Anthony Jowitt (Rudolph Franklyn, Jr.), Tom Findley (Rudolph Franklyn, Sr.), Mary Foy (Mrs. Hunt), "Gunboat" Smith (Sailor Sheldon), Charles Sellon (Constable), Joe Burke (The Bicycle Man)
"You'll enjoy it." (1) "It's a good one." (2) "(It) should please everywhere." (3) "(It) is a first rate run." (4)
As can be seen, reviewers all agreed that "The Lucky Devil" is a good picture. The New York Times' reviewer put things in perspective, though, by adding, "'The Lucky Devil' is not a great picture, but it is very good entertainment."
Of course, the obvious comparisons were made to the earlier Wallace Reid pictures which were so enjoyable such as "The Roaring Road" (1919) and its sequel "Excuse My Dust" (1920) - a logical comparison considering the fact that Byron Morgan wrote the Reid pictures and "The Lucky Devil," as well. Fortunately, rather than being a tired rehash of previous picture, as one would expect when a theme is continued for a third, fourth or fifth time, "The Lucky Devil" and Dix's performance are refreshing and may even have an edge on Reid's earlier films. As the Harrison's Report reviewer pointed out, "It is . . . just as suspensive (sic), just as thrilling, as were the Reid stories and contains as many comedy situations, if not more. Mr. Dix impersonates the hero's role most happily; he imparts to the picture a light air, putting the spectator in a happy frame of mind all the time."
In the case of "The Lucky Devil," Morgan gave an interesting and captivating premise that enhances the appeal of the story. Bill Phelps (Dix's character) wins a automobile described as a "hoodoo car," in other works, a car that is jinxed. The car is owned young Rudy Franklyn, whose father is by the owner of the Franklyn Department Store because it somehow seemed to keep in son in trouble with the law and/or women. He decided to give it to the Girl Scouts so they could raffle it - both father and son believing the car to be a "hoodoo."
Telling a friend, "Gee! If owned this baby - I'd head for the real open spaces!" Bill spends is entire savings, $50, on raffle tickets and wins!
A neat love story is woven into the narrative with the beautiful and charming Esther Ralston as a would-be heiress, Doris Kent, traveling with her aunt - the indefatigable Edna Mae Oliver in a rare silent movie appearance. Oliver's comedic talents were a delight in her heyday during the 1930's, and she is no less delightful in this silent film. Doris has received a letter from her uncle stating that he wishes her to be the heiress of the Sedgmore estate and millions. She and her aunt have sold all they have to buy a Ford and travel to Nampa where the estate is located.
Bill and Doris meet at a campground, but the suspicious aunt isn't as welcoming to the stranger as is her niece. As her introductory intertitle describes her, "Aunt Abbie Kent whose natural pessimism has not been dispelled by the prospect of an inheritance for her niece." This pessimism is apparently warranted when the Aunt Abbie finds a newspaper article about Rudy Franklyn's recent troubles accompanied by a photo of the car. Recognizing the car as the same one Bill is driving, she convinces her niece that the stranger must be Rudy Franklyn and not someone with whom she should associate. Thus, the first instance of the car justifying it's "hoodoo" reputation.
So, Doris and Aunt Abbie take off early the next morning before Bill awakes, and, of course, his first thought is that he must catch up to them. This, first of all, results in a speeding ticket. Then he has a flat tire, and, while he's changing the tire, a stranger on a bicycle comes along and steals his wallet - more evidence the car is a "hoodoo."
One stroke of luck does occur, however. As Bill is pushing his car, he notices Doris and her Aunt stalled on the side of the road ahead. He convinces them to let him siphon gas from their car to his, and he can tow them to Nampa.
Bad luck continues in Nampa - first for Doris and her Aunt as they find that the uncle has no estate and is an inmate in an insane asylum. Then, both Doris and Bill run up unpayable bills for their hotel rooms because both are broke.
Bill runs across a way out to pay all their bills and make Doris feel as if she received an inheritance - the Annual Nampa Road Race has a top prize of $10,000! There's only one catch, the entrance fee is $100! But, as luck would have it (especially in the movie world!), Bill finds a way to earn not just $100, but $200! At the local carnival, all he has to do is last two rounds with Sailor Sheldon, the Australian Light Heavyweight Champion. Actually, Dix and Gunboat Smith, who plays the part of Sailor Sheldon, put on a good performance in the ring. Nothing silly about this fight - a slugfest that is staged much better than most from this period. The ending is almost worthy of a "Rocky" movie as Bill is beat to a pulp (very realistic!), but remains standing to win the prize.
Morgan as the writer and director Frank Tuttle deserve credit for bringing in a few surprises in the film that keep things interesting. One of those is the return of the guy who stole Bill's wallet while he was changing a tire out on the road. Bill spots the old guy and gives chase. A cop sees them and follows. Behind the stores, the cop comes up just as Bill is ransacking the old guy's pockets for his wallet. He finds it, and standing there with his foot on the thief's chest, the cop assumes Bill is the bad guy. He orders Bill to give the wallet to the old guy - and to make matters worse, when he sees the $200 in Bill's hand, he makes him give that to the old man, too! More hoodoo?
At any rate, Bill ends up entering the race, his entrance fee being paid (unbeknownst to Bill) by Doris. It's a spectacular race with great camera angles and some fancy driving - cars skidding around on the dirt roads, driving through flaming hay bales spread across the road - and no fake speeding up of the film to give the impression these old racers are going faster than they are - these guys are really flying! The only "faking" comes in the close-ups of Bill in the car, but that's as one would expect.
Morgan added a few ingenious twists to his race story, though, that enhance the enjoyment of the race and help keep the viewer a little closer to the edge of the seat. For comedy, the old Constable insists he can't let Bill's car out of his sight because the landlady called and complained about Bill's unpaid bill at the hotel - so he rides with Bill in the race. "Gosh, I ain't had a thrill like this since my old woman bobbed her hair," he exclaims.
Also, to add a little more excitement to the event, Morgan plants a couple of bad guys in the race who are known for running other racers off the road and using whatever unscrupulous means they can to win. Obviously, the end of the race comes down to a challenge between Bill and one of these guys.
Of course, we know in these films that the hero always wins the race. . . but does he? Bill has a comfortable lead and is headed for an easy win when suddenly a small child walks out into the road. To avoid hitting the child, Bill runs off the road and hits a tree. The gears are stripped! Even though Bill has a huge lead - he has no choice but to just give up - that is, until the Constable suggests, "Try reverse!" Well, you know the rest . . .
One can't help but admire Richard Dix - he was a top star, maintained a dignified private life, and proved himself to be one of the most talented actors of his time. He started making movies in 1917 and continued into the sound era without skipping a beat. As matter of fact, one of his best known films was 1931's "Cimarron," a standout western that earned the Best Picture Academy Award and garnered Dix a nomination for best actor. After making over 50 silent films, he went on to make another 50-plus sound films - unfortunately, dying prematurely of a heart attack at age 56 in 1949, only two years after his retirement from films. "The Lucky Devil" shows his versatility - a lighthearted story in which - although he's not invincible - he does persist to win the girl, win the race, and win our approval for a fine performance. Harrison's Reports commented "Mr. Dix impersonates the hero's role most happily; he imparts to the picture a light air, putting the spectator in a happy frame of mind all the time." (6)
Esther Ralston is best remembered for her leading role opposite Charles Farrell in "Old Ironsides" (1926) and as Mrs. Darling in "Peter Pan" (1924) which starred Betty Bronson. After getting the starring role in "American Venus" (1926), the title somehow stuck, and she was subsequently referred to as "The American Venus." Ralston was a beautiful blonde who did well in the roles she was given - and although she earned as much as $8,000 a week at Paramount (7), she never truly gained "top level" star status. In the 1930's, her star declined even further - reportedly because she rebuffed the advances of Louis B. Mayer - however, she continue to work steadily in pictures throughout the decade, made a handful of films in the 1940's and 1950's, and even had a regular role in a short-lived TV series in 1961. Having no "fortune" for whatever reason from her years of acting, she worked in jobs such as a department store saleslady and talent executive in later years to make a living. (8)
However, in 1925, she was on the rise, and the beauty and talent she adds to "The Lucky Devil" makes the viewer a "lucky devil" being able to see her in her prime. It's easy to see why Bill Phelps would fall for the lovely Doris Kent. In her autobiography, Ralston expresses fond memories of this film. Frank Tuttle was our director, and from the moment I met him, I adored him. Later, Mr. Tuttle directed me in several other pictures, and he was always so gentle and understanding that I felt happy and secure in my work and always tried my best to please him." (9)
Edna Mae Oliver is best known for the long lanky form and self-described "horse face" that added so much comedy to films of the 1930's. She was 42 years old when she made "The Lucky Devil," and she was perfectly cast for the suspicious aunt who wants to protect her niece from a womanizer. Unfortunately, director Tuttle didn't make as much use of her as he should have - some snappier intertitles and interaction with Bill would have added much to the film. Ralston remembered a happy association with Oliver on "The Lucky Devil," too. "I had to steel myself in every scene to keep from laughing out loud at her funny expressions. Miss Oliver was one of the loveliest ladies I've ever met in show business." (10)
Harrison's Reports raved, "It is . . . just as suspensive (sic), just as thrilling, as were the Reid stories and contains as many comedy situations, if not more.. . 'The Lucky Devil' should please everywhere." (11)
Although it is a little out of character, The New York Times actually had nothing but praise for what would be considered a low-budget film. "When the movies learn to make fun of their heroes, as done in 'The Lucky Devil' at the Rivoli this week, we may chalk down a mark on the slate of progress. Richard Dix, the star of this picture, is customarily a hero of the than-whom-none variety . . . His adventures in 'The Lucky Devil' are therefore remarkable. They do all sorts of things to him, and he stands them without once flashing his badge or pulling his card to Heroes' Local No. 444. What's more, he seems to like it. . . It is, in other words, proof that this picture broadcasts on a wave any human receiver can get. . . Director and star take it all in a humorous tempo, and there are constant little flashes of humorous and original action. Brains went into this picture. And part of the brains was devoted to illustrating the principle that the voice with the smile wins, provided always it speaks in thoroughly human accents. There is not a single highfalutin' moment in the film, thanks be." (12)
Variety was just as pleased with the film. "'The Lucky Devil' is a first rate run and will live up to lots of boosting, particularly if the star happens to be strong in your neighborhood. . . A few more of this type for Dix will "make" him solidly, for the audience Sunday night at the Rivoli ate it up and wanted more. Following 'Paths of Paradise' of last week wasn't an easy job, but this one stood up well." (13)
The copy of "The Lucky Devil" commented on here
is from Grapevine Video, and it's one of those instances when
a "plug" is necessary. I purchased this film from Grapevine Video on VHS
several years ago. The quality of the print and the score were
"OK" - I had no complaints. It was good enough, though,
to rank as one of my many favorite silents - lots of fun to watch.
When Grapevine owner Jack Hardy went into a brief retirement a
few years ago, he thankfully returned to continue offering rare
films - although with a much-reduced catalog. "The Lucky
Devil" was one of the titles missing. However, he recently
brought this enjoyable film back - this time on DVD with a new,
original organ score by David Knudtson. If you were one of the
ones, along with me, who purchased the VHS version, toss it out
and get this copy. The difference in the print alone is worth
the few dollars - not to mention what Knudtson's excellent score
adds to the enjoyment of the film. The quality is . . . well,
would you rather have a hot dog or a full course meal? I think
you get my point - not perfect sharpness, but good contrast, excellent
blacks and whites, and head and shoulders better than the videotape
copy. Kudos to Jack Hardy for this excellent quality release -
so go ahead, upgrade your collection! Oh, and if you've never
seen this one, spring for a few lousy bucks - you'll be glad you
1. Motion Picture. "The Lucky Devil" review.
2. Picture Play. "The Lucky Devil" review. October 1925.
3. Harrison's Reports. "The Lucky Devil" review. July 11, 1925.
4. Variety. "The Lucky Devil review. July 8, 1925.
5. The New York Times. "The Lucky Devil" review. July 8, 1925.
6. Harrison's Reports.
8. Internet Movie Database
9. Ralston, Esther. Some Day We'll Laugh. (The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen N.J. and London, 1985).
11. Harrison's Reports.
12. The New York Times
Copyright 2012 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved
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