Sunday, January 17, 2010

If I Had A Million (1932)

If I Had Million (1932) is a delightful comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Taurog, Stephen Roberts, Norman Z. McLeod, James Cruze, William A. Seiter, and H. Bruce Humberstone. The screenplays were scripted by many different writers, with Joseph L. Mankiewicz making a large contribution.

Tycoon John Glidden (Richard Bennett), dying though still vigorous cannot decide what to do with his millions. He despises his money-hungry relatives and believes none of his employees is capable of running his various companies. He decides to give it away in million-dollar amounts to strangers picked from the city directory. The first name selected is John D. Rockefeller, which is swiftly rejected.

He picks a meek china salesman; a prostitute; a forger; two ex-vaudevilleans who hate road hogs; a condemned man; a mild-mannered clerk; a boisterous marine; and an oppressed inmate of an old ladies' home.

Glidden's first pick is Henry Peobody (Charles Ruggles), a china salesman. Peabody is unhappy at work and at home. A bookkeeper promoted to salesman in a china shop, Peobody keeps breaking the merchandise, meaning his raise brings home less money than before. At home, his nagging wife (Mary Boland) is quick to notice. After Glidden gives him a certified check, Peobody shows up late for work with a pet rabbit and then proceeds to gleefully break things at random.

Glidden's second pick is a bar room prostitute Violet Smith (Wynne Gibson). She uses her million to check into the most expensive hotel suite she can find and goes to bed, alone.

Glidden's third pick is Eddie Jackson (George Raft), a forger wanted by the police.
Eddie narrowly avoids arrest for trying to cash a forged check. With his prior record, if he is caught, it will mean a life sentence in prison. When Glidden presents him with his check, Eddie is delighted, at first. However, he does not dare show his face in a bank to cash the check, and none of his criminal associates believes the check is real. Frantic to leave town and desperately needing to sleep, he gives the check as security for a 10 cent bed in a flophouse. The manager secretly calls the police to take away what he thinks is a lunatic, and burns the check and uses it to light his cigarette.

Glidden's fourth selection is two ex-vaudevilleans, Rollo La Rue (W.C. Fields) and Emily La Rue (Alison Skipworth). The couple are very content with their life and running a tea room. There dream of owning a car comes true. However, on their first outing in their new automobile, they are in an accident caused by a road hog. When they return home heartbroken, they are met by Glidden. Emily comes up with an inventive way to spend part of her great windfall.

Emily and Rollo purchase eight used cars and hire drivers. They all take to the road in a long procession of cars. When they encounter a road hog, Emily and Rollo immediately set off in pursuit and crash into the offender's automobile. They then switch to one of their spare cars and repeat the process, until they run out of cars. At the end of the day, Emily purchases another new car, but it too is destroyed in a collision with a truck. Emily still tells Rollo it has been "a glorious day".

Glidden's fifth selection is John Wallace (Gene Raymond), a man on death row. After a tearful conversation with his wife Mary (Frances Dee), he is visited by Glidden in his cell. Glidden knows he is about to die but figures John can die in peace knowing his wife is provided for. However, John is certain that his new-found wealth will save him, but it is too late. He is executed that same day, despite his protests.

Glidden's sixth selection is clerk Phineas V. Lambert (Charles Laughton) who receives his check in the mail. He shows little emotion. He merely leaves his desk, calmly climbs the stairs to the office of the President of the Company. When he is arrives, Phineas blows a raspberry at his former boss and leaves.

Glidden's seventh selection is Marine Steve Gallagher (Gary Cooper). When Glidden arrives Gallagher and his budies Private Mulligan (Jack Oakie) and Private O'Brien (Roscoe Karns) are in the stockade for striking their sergeant. When Glidden gives Gallagher the check, Gallagher notices it is April 1st and assumes it is a joke. When the three men are released, they immediately head for a nearby lunch stand to see Marie (Joyce Compton), the pretty waitress. They all want to take her to the carnival, but none of them has any money. Then Gallagher remembers his check and that Zeb (Lucien Littlefield), the stand's owner, is illiterate. He tells Zeb that the check is for $10 and gets Zeb to cash it.

When the trio gets into a fight at the carnival they end up back in the stockades. Through the bars, they watch dumbfounded as a fancily-dressed Zeb steps out of a limousine, escorting an equally well dressed Marie. Gallagher says to his buddies, do you think the check was real?

Glidden's final selection is Mrs. Mary Walker (May Robson). She resides at Idylwood, a home for elderly women. The home is run by Mrs. Garvey (Blanche Friderici). Garvey is a tyrant who will not the residents do anything, play cards, have pets, or cook. Mary uses the money to buy the home. She pays Mrs. Garvey and the rest of the staff just to sit in rocking chairs while she and the other residents have a wonderful time partying and dancing with their gentleman friends. In addition, Mary always several kitty cats to live in the home too.

Mary's spirit even reinvigorates John Glidden. Glidden ignores his doctor and looks forward to spending time with Mary and eating her wonderful pies.

Some of the eight stories are funny, some are touching, and some are brilliant. The Eddie Jackson (George Raft) segment is twistedly ironic showing crime never pays. And everyone wants to be Phineas Lambert (Charles Laughton) and give their boss a rasberry.

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