A Superb Examination of Small Business Versus the Chain Store, Still Relevant Today
The most complex of star Douglas MacLean's films for producer Thomas Ince is One a Minute, depicting changes in American retailing in a sophisticated satire of American business. It is set literally in middle America: Centerville, shown on the map as a short distance from Des Moines. Douglas MacLean, as Jimmy Knight, inherits his father's drug store, losing customers to the newly-opened competitor, R&H. As noted in an intertitle, it is "The modern 'Trust' store that promises to cure the fanciest ailmentson a cut rate basis." The inexpensive chain store overwhelming a "mom-and-pop" small business is a situation no less relevant today.
However, One a Minute is not a socially conscious observation of business practices, and the background is subsumed into outright comedy. MacLean is far more expressive than in most of his roles, as a go-getter; Lincoln may be Knight's idol, but he is hardly a "knight in shining armor," instead following the motto of Barnum recalled by the movie's title.
To impress a girl who turns out to be the daughter of the owner of R&H, Knight rejects a generous buy-out. The only way to compete with the bigger store is to offer a product they cannot. He then concocts the fabled panacea his father had spent a lifetime trying to create by simply combining the worst-tasting ingredients, from ginger to fuller's earth. The press is happy to publicize the "discovery," and the first to try it find themselves revitalized. But Knight does not stop there; he demands to be named mayor in order to locate his factory locally, and when placed on trial for violating the Pure Food and Drug Act, wins the case by curing the dyspeptic judge. Finally R&H pay him $1.5 million to reveal the secret fifth ingredient. It is, says Knight, faithbut not the faith of Christian Science, simply the will to believe. Indeed, One a Minute has gone so far into make-believe that a final intertitle pictures the stork's delivery of a baby to Knight and his soon-to-be-wife.
One a Minute was probably the highlight of Ince's films for producer Thomas Ince for Paramount release, as outlined in my Ince biography. Based on a 1918 play by Fred Jackson, One a Minute offers both farce but also very clear parallels with economic tensions. Although the implications may be inescapable, they are left at the side for the viewer to consider after the comedy is delivered. One a Minute cost $78,301 to produce, and grossed $199,795.
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