Third Time Lucky (1949)


Will his gambling addiction be the death of him?


UK / 86 minutes / bw / Alliance Anglofilm, GFD Dir: Gordon Parry Pr: Mario Zampi Scr: Gerald Butler Story: They Cracked her Glass Slipper (1941) by Gerald Butler Cine: Cedric Williams Cast: Glynis Johns, Dermot Walsh, Charles Goldner, Harcourt Williams, Yvonne Owen, Helen Haye, Edna Kaye, John Stuart, Sebastian Cabot, Ballard Berkeley, Harold Berens, Millicent Wolf, Marianne Deeming, Bruce Walker, Michael Hordern, Charles Rolfe.

Third Time Lucky - 0 opener

We start in a hospital, where young office receptionist Joan Burns (Johns) is taken by a grim-faced police escort to an office where a police inspector (Stuart) interviews her about a crime that has recently been committed. Where did she get the gun? Why did she fire it? Was it her who fired it? At first she refuses—or is perhaps too shell-shocked—to respond, but eventually the words start flowing and we enter the first of two extended flashbacks that between them constitute almost the entirety of the movie . . .

Third Time Lucky - 1 Lucky commandeers Joan's cab, C Rolfe as driver

Lucky (Dermot Walsh) commandeers Joan’s cab, The driver is played by Charles Rolfe.

Some whole ago, Joan had just caught a taxi when a young man, sprinting from a dog track, jumped aboard, claiming to be a cop. He instructed the driver (Rolfe) to do his best to escape a pursuing cab. The pursuers successfully lost, the man leapt out and entered a pub. Finding that the man had left his wallet on the seat, Joan followed him to return it. It proved he was no cop at all but instead a deeply superstitious professional gambler called simply Lucky (Walsh); he was escaping some thugs. She pointed out that, this particular evening, she’d brought him quite a lot of luck. He took the comment literally, and from that point on determined she should be his lucky mascot.

Third Time Lucky - 2 A first toast between Lucky and Joan

 A first toast between Lucky (Dermot Walsh) and Joan (Glynis Johns).

Her influence seemed to work splendidly. She went with him to casinos and, although his gambling had not only been making him a living but kept him in some style, his good fortune increased yet further with her “assistance.” He insisted on paying her a share of the winnings, first in the form of expensive clothing from the fashion store run by Madame Thérèse (Deeming), and then in actual cash. Since by now she was deeply in love with him, she initially resented the business arrangement but eventually, in order to keep him by her, acquiesced.

Third Time Lucky - 8 Madame Therese of the dress shop

Madame Therese (Marianne Deeming) of the dress shop.

Unfortunately, Joan attracted the attention of a rival gambler, the sinister “Flash” Charles (Goldner), who was keen to take her over from Lucky, in hopes not just of improving his own gambling luck but also of, well, getting lucky. To that end one night he plied her with brandy—“My head’s trying to jump sideways,” she observed.

Third Time Lucky - 6 Flash gets Joan smashed

Flash (Charles Goldner) gets Joan (Glynis Johns) hammered.

The following morning she woke in bed in the spare room of Lucky’s luxury apartment; he’d saved her in the nick of time from Flash’s attentions and brought her home. (Johns produces here a wonderful depiction of a world-class hangover; it’s a very funny and painfully realistic scene.) Lucky proposed that she come and live in the spare room: it would make the logistics of their partnership so much easier. After some dithering, and to the chagrin of her worldly wise flatmate Peggy (Owen), who told her that all men were after only one thing and one thing only, Joan accepted the offer.

Third Time Lucky - 7 Almost, Lucky and Joan admit feelings

Almost, Lucky (Dermot Walsh) and Joan (Glynis Johns) admit their feelings for each other. Almost.

Good luck continued to flow their way. But then, eventually, the tide turned. Lucky started playing for higher and higher stakes with nastier and nastier people, including the loathsome Flash. Soon Lucky had lost all of his money. The only hope for the pair was to use the money that Joan had put by. Lucky arranged with a fixer called Jimmy (Walker) to arrange a long-odds win at the dog track. On the appointed day, Lucky and Joan placed Joan’s savings on the dog in question, not realizing that Flash had bribed Jimmy to make sure the wrong dog won.

Third Time Lucky - 10 Flash gloats as Lucky destroys self at dogtrack

Flash (Charles Goldner) gloats as Lucky destroys self at dogtrack.

That night Lucky went to have it out with Flash but, before he could get there, was shot in the back by one of Flash’s goons. The dying Lucky was helped home by the drunken “Doc” Herridge (Williams), his license long ago lost through (we guess) his alcoholism, but Doc’s hands were shaking too much for him to be able to extract the bullet . . .

Third Time Lucky - 11 Doc heads off to warn Lucky of Flash's perfidy

Doc (Harcourt Williams) sets out to warn Lucky of Flash’s perfidy.

Third Time Lucky - 12 Flash's goon shoots Lucky in back

Flash’s goon (uncredited) shoots Lucky in the back.

It’s a tribute to the plotting of this movie that, even at this late stage in the proceedings, we still don’t know why Joan is being interrogated by the police inspector.

Although unmistakably a British movie, Third Time Lucky is also almost selfconsciously noirish, as expressed through not just its plotting and direction but also Williams’s cinematography and Stanley Black’s score. (The theme song is a suitably smoochy number, sung both live and on the soundtrack by Edna Kaye.) It’s echoed too in Johns’s performance, which depicts a sense of noirish hopelessness even at times when Joan is supposed to be happy. (Overall, that performance is rather like a cross between Gloria Grahame and Felicity Kendall, with a dash of Joan Greenwood thrown in—what’s not to like?) At one point Joan, who’s a sort of anti-femme fatale, has to climb a flight of stairs to meet Flash, and it’s as if she’s ascending a scaffold—not just in the reluctance of tread but also the hangdog visage. It’s a sequence straight out of US noir.

Third Time Lucky - 5 Edna Kaye sings the movie's theme song

Edna Kaye sings the movie’s theme song.

There are some noirishly snappy lines too, as when Joan explains to Peggy why she (Joan) keeps getting sacked from receptionist jobs. She has a habit of slapping men’s faces, it seems, but “It’s not their faces I slap. It’s the look on their faces.”

There’s a great little cameo from Helen Haye as an elderly lady whom Joan runs into at one of the casinos. Primly, this lady explains to Joan some of the facets of gambling addiction, then shamefacedly reveals through her actions that she too is an addict.

Third Time Lucky - 4 old Lady advises Joan against gambling while admitting own addiction

 Helen Haye plays a genteel old lady who advises Joan (Glynis Johns) against gambling while admitting own addiction.

Another good cameo comes from Harold Berens, listed in the credits as “Young Waiter” but in fact ~46 years old at the time, and made to look if anything older than that. He’s Charlie, the guy who’s regularly sent up with the meal orders to Lucky’s flat by the café downstairs. His dialogue is an entertaining combination of Italian accent (I think) and sensibilities with snatches of Cockney, including an expressive “Wotta geezer!” Michael Hordern has a tiny, uncredited role as the doctor whom Doc calls in when he realizes he himself is incapable of operating on Lucky.

Third Time Lucky - 3 Joan

Joan (Glynis Johns) has her doubts about Lucky’s dreams of gambling glory.

Johns’s is the key performance, of course, but she’s ably supported. I’ve complained more than once, when discussing other movies, about how bland an actor Walsh is, but here that blandness works just fine: Lucky’s personality is intended to be a shallow one, so shallow that he can’t even respond with more than bright clichés to the fact that very obviously Joan is falling hard for him. He can tell her how she pretty he is and how much he enjoys having her around, but any genuine affection would seem to be too profound for Lucky’s superficiality. In a somewhat smaller role, Harcourt Williams is exemplary as the perpetually drunken but goodhearted Doc, as is Owen as Joan’s pretty flatmate Peggy.

Third Time Lucky - 9 worldly wise flatmate Peggy

Joan’s worldly wise flatmate Peggy (Yvonne Owen).

Johns’s best support, though, comes from Goldner. As the loathsome Flash Goldner’s magnificently sleazy, oozing repellency by the bucketload, his presence setting the skin a-crawl, the kind of guy you know on sight is entirely untrustworthy, who’ll betray you and destroy you without a second thought. Whenever he’s on screen he dominates it, even at the cost of Johns in their several encounters.

The title of the movie comes from Lucky’s superstition that, when firing up a cigarette, it’s bad fortune not to do so with the third light—i.e., you should click a flame out of your lighter once, twice and then a third time, with which third flame you light the cigarette. I’ve always come across the reverse of this superstition, born I believe from the World War One trenches: that the third light is unlucky, especially at night, because you’ve given any enemy sniper a chance to get his eye in.

I was interested to learn more about Gerald Butler’s source novel for this movie, They Cracked her Glass Slipper. So into my search engine I typed the following terms: +Butler +cracked +glass +slipper. Top of the list of Goodsearch’s results—its best guess, as it were—was: “Gerard Butler can crack walnuts with his butt.” O brave new world, that has such people in’t.

7 thoughts on “Third Time Lucky (1949)

  1. It sounds great…and you’ve refernced one of my fave actresses, Gloria Grahame – even better. I would love to watch this but it doesn’t appear to be available on YouTube. Oh well…

  2. Gerald Butler also wrote the novel for the under-rated Burt Lancaster/Joan Fontaine noir Kiss the Blood Off My hands, 1948.

  3. Another excellent write-up on a film off the beacon track for most. I love Glynnis Johns of course, remembering much of her later work in the Hammer series. The story of the film reminds of a Twilight Zone episode of an addicted gambler losing his life after going through his entire life savings to a one-armed bandit.

    • I vaguely recall that episode. The ambiance of this movie is much more like an Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre outing, though — something like Flat Two, perhaps — although this is a far better movie than the ones in that series.

  4. Pingback: Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949) | Noirish

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