Lucky Jordan (1942)
Following his breakout roles in This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key, Paramount, elevated Alan Ladd to top billing in a tailor made showcase casting him as a gangster enlisted into the military who sees the light when getting tangled up with a German spy ring.
Ladd is the tough talking gangster running a bookie operation with Sheldon Leonard playing Slip Moran (love these names) as his second in command. If you know Sheldon, then you know he’s just itching to become the top dog by removing Ladd. Permanently. The film actually opens with an attempt on Ladd’s life when Sheldon and another perennial heavy, Anthony Caruso, set up a hit that misses the mark.
For more on Caruso and his frequent appearances in Ladd films, click here for more on the story.
“I don’t owe anything to anybody.”
That’s not the way Uncle Sam sees it when Ladd is called upon to serve his country. His shady lawyer, Lloyd Corrigan, can’t get him out of the draft even after employing a drunken old Apple Annie type played by Mabel Paige, who needs the support of her “son” to make ends meet.
No sir, Ladd is off to boot camp. Truth is he’ll spend more time in the mess hall chatting up Helen Walker making her film debut.
“You’re pretty fresh.”
“You’re pretty. Period.”
Ladd will ultimately end up in the Guard House donning prisoner duds. Ladd would much rather be running his organized crime ring and wearing five hundred dollar suits so he slugs a guard, commandeers a car and kidnaps Miss Walker in one misguided moment.
Enter the spy ring.
Unbeknownst to Ladd, the car that he steals was being driven by a man carrying military secrets marked for theft by John Wengraf’s spy ring. More on that later but for now Ladd has to contend with Walker who is doing her best to get away from Ladd. Then there’s Sheldon who has taken over the “operation.” It’s at this point that Sheldon will let Ladd and Walker in on the spy ring and how he’s looking for the briefcase with the paperwork to sell for a cool fifty grand.
Ladd likes the sound of the money while Walker wants to prevent the military secrets from getting into the wrong hands. Perhaps if she romances Ladd a bit she can bring him around to seeing the light? Not likely. At least not yet.
For a film that’s rather light in tone with more than a few playful touches there’s a shockingly violent scene for it’s era when Ladd finally faces off against with Sheldon. A swift kick to the head and damned near a second one before Walker stops Ladd from delivering the coup de gras.
Moving on, Walker gets away from Ladd but fully intends to prevent him from selling the military secrets. Leonard comes to and will have to negotiate with Ladd on behalf of the Germans and then there’s our leading man who is going to have to do the right thing but just needs something to melt that cold selfish heart of his to play along with Uncle Sam’s team.
And when it does, Ladd, is going to play it tough with Wengraf and his countryman. When Ladd gets the upper hand holding them at bay with a shotgun there’s a new meaning to the line, “Stay where you are sauerkraut.”
Lucky Jordan was directed by Frank Tuttle who had directed Ladd previously on This Gun For Hire. He’d reteam with the actor years later for 1955’s enjoyable Hell on Frisco Bay.
While Ladd plays it tough, Lucky Jordan does maintain a lightheartedness that works well. If it weren’t for the violent gangster angle, this could have played like a Cary Grant or Fred MacMurray screwball wartime romcom. Miss Walker scores as the leading lady with a lovely set of gams who is out to ensure Ladd does no harm in the end and of course just might end up on his arm at the fadeout …. but I’m not telling. Walker only made a handful of movies in the 40’s and early fifties with some notable titles among them. Brewster’s Millions, Call Northside 777, Nightmare Alley and a zany slapstick affair with a bent towards dark humor I can easily recommend, Murder, He Says opposite the aforementioned Fred MacMurray.
Gives me pause to wonder why Paramount didn’t once again cast Veronica Lake alongside Ladd? For luck.
Ladd gets to deliver the propaganda speech near the climax as was customary in most films of the era that pitted Us against Them, but in his next film, 1943’s China, he’d drop the comic angles of Lucky Jordan as he and long time buddy Bill Bendix went to war against the Japanese.
Then we come to Sheldon Leonard. Not just another pretty face in the world of movie gangsters or maybe you know him best as Nick the Bartender in It’s a Wonderful Life. Then again, maybe it’s the voice you instantly recall. Did you know he was also an accomplished producer in the early days of television? How’s this for a sample, The Danny Thomas Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and my favorite, The Andy Griffith Show. He’d even direct episodes on each series among others.
Ripe for restoration, the copy of Lucky Jordan I watched was far from perfect airing on TCM a number of years ago with an introduction by classic film historian, the late Robert Osborne. I’m glad I caught the intro when setting the PVR as Mr. Osborne always brought an enthusiasm to the films that he could pass on to us viewers. He pointed out that the film was making it’s TCM debut and to be honest I’m not sure if it’s played since. In his closing remarks following the film he asks if we spotted Yvonne De Carlo and/or Dorothy Dandridge?
I must confess I did not.
I’m not sure where you can locate a copy of Ladd’s Jordan but if we’re all as “Lucky” as the title character maybe it turns up on blu ray via Kino Lorber, Arrow Academy or Shout Select. All three companies have released some of Ladd’s early work.