By Daniel Wible | July 22, 2003

Those with even a casual appreciation of silent films will love the retro charms of “The Lucky Penny”. Co-directed (along with Michael Angelo Centeno), written, and produced by Cliff Cronan, “The Lucky Penny” is a delightful throwback to the golden age of cinema, refreshingly without a hint of irony. Cronan, who also stars, has masterfully recreated the silent film down to even the smallest details: black and white photography (of course), an overly dramatic (and absolutely perfect) piano score, dialogue cards, absurdly speeded-up movement, and sublimely ridiculous physical comedy. Though it’s set in the modern world, the evocation of the genre’s fluid grace and cartoonish whimsy is so convincing you’d swear you were watching the real thing.
The token plot of “The Lucky Penny” is more of an excuse for a series of inspired sight gags and pratfalls. Like the great ones of silent films (Keaton, Chaplin, etc.), Cronan takes center stage in his own circus. He plays Luckless, “a hapless optimist whom time seems to have forgotten”, so says an early text card. Indeed, Luckless is a man out of step with the modern world: his fashion is eighty years old, his timepiece doesn’t work, and he can’t seem to figure out that pesky elevator. When he finds a penny on the ground however, this hapless optimist’s luck may have just turned around. And when he then meets a pretty girl on the street, it certainly seems like his lucky day. But before long, Luckless inadvertently finds himself in trouble with the cops, who chase him around through most of the film. Much hilarity then ensues: he scales walls, causes a riot at a soccer match, and apprehends a pair of bumbling “Masked Bandits”, thus earning himself a $5000 reward. In the end of all this zaniness, he even gets the girl.
In his emotionally devastating Talk To Her Almodovar paid loving tribute to the silent film form in a stunning dream sequence. Perhaps he has started a trend. Though “genre recreations” such as “The Lucky Penny” should make one weary (after all, as with any “remake”, why waste your time with an imitation when you could be watching the usually much superior original), it appears they have found stable ground in modern cinema with recent films such as Far From Heaven and Down With Love. And for that matter what does it say about modern cinema when the former of these two, a throwback to the girly-swirly melodramas of Douglas Sirk, was the best film of last year? Will the best film of this year be an homage to German expressionism, or maybe even Spanish surrealism? Well, it’s unlikely, but the point remains that when a filmmaker as obviously passionate about the history of cinema as Cronan is about silent films, great things happen. Great art is after all, great art, regardless of its inspiration. Okay, so maybe “The Lucky Penny” isn’t necessarily “great art”. It is however, both respectful of its roots and clever in its own right. Cronan’s slapstick should make even in the most jaded among us at least smile. If you’re looking for a primer on this near-forgotten era of moviemaking, you should definitely check out the films of Keaton or Chaplin, which are finally available on DVD. Once you have fully indulged in them, you should next seek out this little gem, a brilliant recreation of the past and who knows, maybe a sign of things to come…

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