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They don't make 'em like this anymore! In fact, they hardly ever made
'em like this in the first place. Million Dollar Legs is one of a kind,
a truly bizarre comedy with attitude to spare and an otherworldly
quality all its own. This is a Flesicher cartoon come to life, full of
weird non sequiturs, sassy quips, slapstick violence and sexy dance
moves. It's hard to believe that such an off-the-wall concoction was
the product of the Hollywood studio system of the '30s; it looks more
like something written by Algonquin Round Table wiseacres during a late
night, booze-fueled party. The closest cinematic parallel would be the
Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, made at the same studio (Paramount) by the
same producer (Herman J. Mankiewicz) a year later. Both movies take
place in mythical countries and include elements of political satire,
with oblique references to the financial crisis then sweeping the
globe. Both movies were made when Fascist and Soviet totalitarianism
was on the march, and both use crazy verbal and visual gags to suggest
a world gone mad. Still, Million Dollar Legs is the one that takes the
madness concept deeper into the Outer Limits. The Marx Brothers'
classic may be a funnier and more tightly made comedy, but this flick
is crazier. Viewers with a taste for surreal silliness will be in
This film was made in anticipation of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. The Paramount brass wanted to have something ready to go into theaters in conjunction with the games, and instead of a routine sports picture it was suggested that a comedy would be novel. The project was given to Herman Mankiewicz to supervise, since he'd worked with the Marx Brothers on Monkey Business and seemed to have a knack for this sort of thing. Mankiewicz, an eccentric wit from New York who'd been a regular member of the Algonquin literary set, assigned the script to his 24 year-old brother Joe and a writer named Henry Myers. In later years Joseph L. Mankiewicz told interviewers that the studio brass responded favorably to his crazy ideas and didn't seem too concerned about what kind of movie it turned out to be, as long as it involved the Olympics. One wonders how those Front Office executives -- not to mention Olympics Committee officials -- reacted when they saw the results.
Our story is set in the republic of Klopstokia, a land that time forgot where, we're informed, the chief imports, exports, and inhabitants are nuts and goats. In Klopstokia all the women are named Angela and all the men are named George -- except for our leading lady's little brother Willie, who shoots people in the butt with arrows. The place has a forlorn backwater atmosphere, although the inhabitants all possess superhuman athletic ability. The plot concerns a visiting American brush salesman (Jack Oakie) blessed with the name Migg Tweeny, who falls in love with a Klopstokian girl (Susan Fleming) who happens to be the daughter of the country's beleaguered President (W.C. Fields). Tweeny's boss is eager to bestow money on deserving athletes, so Tweeny, who has been fired, contrives a plan to recruit a team of Klopstokian super-athletes for the Los Angeles Olympics. Thus he can win prize money for Klopstokia, win back his job, and win his girl. The President, meanwhile, must fend off palace coup attempts in a land crawling with spies.
The plot doesn't matter, this movie is all about gags. Million Dollar Legs is generally remembered today as a W.C. Fields vehicle, but although he has a number a good moments he's really just a member of the larger comic ensemble. The tone of the comedy certainly isn't characteristically "Fieldsian," but feels instead like an attempt to revive the freewheeling, anything-goes atmosphere of the early Keystone comedies, updated with a '30s sensibility and satirical wordplay. The Keystone revival motif is underlined by the casting of numerous veterans of the Sennett studio in supporting roles, including Andy Clyde, Vernon Dent, Heinie Conklin, etc. Most notably, Ben Turpin makes a number of wordless appearances as a spy dressed in black. When talkies came in Turpin began a new career in cameo roles, serving as a kind of instant nostalgia figure representing the old days, nowhere so amusingly as here. Jack Oakie and Susan Fleming are the juvenile leads, and while normally I don't much care for Oakie I must admit he's quite appropriately cast as the feckless American brush salesman. Susan Fleming was a gorgeous brunette who is best remembered as Mrs. Harpo Marx. Based on the evidence at hand she wasn't much of an actress, but her awkward line readings (reminiscent of Ruby Keeler) boost the enterprise greatly: instead of "selling" the material she delivers her dialog with a flat-footed earnestness that makes it funnier. And special mention must go to the great Lyda Roberti in the role of the Mata Hari-like Mata Machree, the Woman No Man Can Resist. Faced with formidable competition Roberti rises to the occasion and practically steals the picture with a show-stopping performance of her big number "When I Get Hot in Klopstokia," a tune that sadly doesn't get much airplay nowadays.
There aren't many movies that even try to be as wacky as this one, but that doesn't mean Million Dollar Legs hasn't been influential. I would guess that its admirers have included everyone from Preston Sturges, Ernie Kovacs and Stan Freberg to the writing staffs of Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live and The Onion. The comic sensibility may not be to everyone's taste, but for connoisseurs of Pre-Code surrealism this is a gourmet feast.
First of all, bear in mind that this movie was made in 1932, not 2002.
Then, do a little research into the popular media of the day, and
you'll get the jokes a lot better. This is one of the funniest movies
ever, and it is lightyears ahead of its time. The non-sequiturs (that
means lines that don't make sense), the quick cuts, the topical humor -
I just love it. What can you say about a country where all the men are
named George, and all the women are named Angela? Why? Why not?? Let's
take a few examples: do we all understand that it's the Fuller Brush
Company that's being kidded in the first scene? Do you know about the
terrorists of the day - the 'anarchists' - who were generally portrayed
in black capes and hats, carrying daggers and pistols and those old
fashioned bombs that look like cannon balls with fuses in them? Do you
get the joke - Mata Machree? The image of the femme fatale Mata Hari,
coupled with an old Irish song about Mom called "Mother Machree". Do we
get that Lyda Roberti (who was Polish) is supposed to be Swedish, since
Greta Garbo was the biggest star of the day? And the 'old Klopstockian
Love Song' is sung to the tune of "One Hour with You," which was not
only a popular film with, I believe, Maurice Chevalier, but was the
theme song of the Eddie Cantor radio show, the most popular show of
1932? Movie audiences of the day would have gotten it.
Jack Oakie is perfect as the fast-talking brush salesman who saves Klopstockia. He is definitely a forerunner in style of not only Bob Hope, but of Robin Williams. Fields is hilarious, but so is everyone in this movie. Susan Fleming wasn't much of an actress, but she was beautiful. I just love Roberti, who came from a famous acting clan in Poland, and who died tragically young. She was a hoot, and could have had a memorable career. My favorite line of hers, when she does her hootchie kootchie dance to try to inspire Hugh Herbert to greater feats of strength: "I been done all I can do - in public." There are so many other quotable lines in this movie - it's the kind of movie you watch and recite along with the actors.
It helps to understand this movie to know a little something about what was 'in' in 1932, but it isn't absolutely necessary. The movie has enough funny lines and slapstick even by today's standards. It's also valuable as an example of the kind of editing we now take for granted. The kind of quick cutting and blackouts that we would see in, for example "Laugh-In," was rare in 1932. This was probably the first really screwball comedy, and it's the screwiest one of all.
One simply....one of the funniest movies of the 1930's. Everything's
perfect in this little, silly comedy about a small country trying to
get out of their financial con-dish by getting a sponsor for their
people in the Summer Olympics.
The entire cast is just great from W.C. Fields down to Vernon Dent and Billy Gilbert.
One of the funniest lines: (To Mata Macree's butler:) "I want to see this woman no man can resist." (Butler:) "Madam is only resisted from 2-4 in the afternoon."
This film, along with "International House" and "If I Had A Million" is the kind of silly, clever comedy that only Paramount could've released.
Million Dollar Legs is the second feature film with W.C. Fields in the
sound era. Still not sure of his box office potential Paramount billed
him second under Jack Oakie. That would be something that would change
shortly as Fields was given greater creative control of his films.
Although Oakie has his moments as his usual lovable blowhard self, a character that would be gradually taken over by Jack Carson in the Forties, the film really does belong to Fields. A year before Duck Soup was out, Million Dollar Legs took some real good political jabs using the American hosted Summer Olympics in Los Angeles as a background. Certainly saved on location shooting.
In fact one of the best things Million Dollar Legs has going for it is the good use of newsreel footage of the Olympics cut into the film. This was to be a showcase for the United States on the world stage. Remember how cleverly Ronald Reagan exploited the Olympics also held in Los Angeles in 1984 in his re-election bid? Herbert Hoover sent his Vice President Charles Curtis to open the Olympics, but the publicity certainly didn't redound to Hoover's credit. In fact Paramount exploited the Olympics better in this film.
W.C. Fields is the President of Klopstokia, a Ruritanian like country in Europe where all the people are trained from earliest times on earth to be athletes. Fields in fact is the strongest man in his kingdom and that's how one becomes president. It's a test of strength in Indian wrestling. When and if one beats him as Treasury Secretary Hugh Herbert keeps trying to do, you become president.
But Herbert's lined up the rest of Fields's disloyal cabinet against him. The country's national debt is about to put it in chapter eleven. What to do?
This is where Oakie comes in. He's a fast talking salesman for Baldwin Brushes and he's got a great offer from company president George Barbier. Recruit some of the populace for the Olympics and enter a Klopstokian team and he'll pay them whatever for use in his advertising. Sounds like a plan.
Herbert's down, but not out. He recruits international femme fatale spy for hire Mata Machree played by Lyda Roberti. She's to do what she does best, work on the hormones of the Klopstokian athletes so they're not concentrating on the Olympics. Make sure they're heads are not in the game.
Like Duck Soup to which this film bears a lot of resemblance Million Dollar Legs is good satire, a little gentler than Duck Soup, still it hits what it aims at. 220 years ago Million Dollar Legs could have come from the pen of Jonathan Swift.
This film went a long way to making W.C. Fields a star. He was a star on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies and in George White's Scandals, but in silent films and in his sound work so far, he played mostly supporting roles in feature films. After this his star status at Paramount and later Universal was assured. He's got some devastating lines here, mostly of his own making because Fields was notorious for just using the script situations as a guide. In a battle of wits, nobody tops him and that includes the director and the writers.
Fields and Oakie are supported by a real good cast of comic actors. Besides who I've mentioned, special mention should go to Andy Clyde as Fields's major domo and Ben Turpin as the silent cross-eyed spy.
For fans of W.C. Fields, a must. Oh, Yes.
MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (Paramount, 1932), directed by Edward Cline, may
have a a backstage musical sounding title to it revolving around
sexy-legged chorus girls, but is actually a surreal comedy with all the
elements of a slapstick silent Mack Sennett comedy, minus the Keystone
Kops and bathing beauties. Consisting of several silent screen
comedians of the past, namely Andy Clyde and Ben Turpin (hilarious as
crossed-eyed spy), the real stars are Jack Oakie and Susan Fleming,
though the movie itself is remembered for the performances of second
billed W.C. Fields as the President (not of the United States), and
fourth billed Lyda Roberti, as the sexy spy known all over as "the
woman no man can resist." MILLION DOLLAR LEGS, pertaining to Andy
Clyde's character with the ability to run miles within a few minutes,
is mostly an ingredient type of oddball comedy Paramount produced in
the 1930s, a plot less story where nothing makes sense though laughs
are plentiful right down to the silliest situations. An easy blend of
farce and satire predating "Monty Python's Flying Circus" of the 1970s,
set in a fictional location, Klopstokia, a locale from the creative
mind of Charlie Chaplin, though written by Joseph Mankiewicz, with plot
and a "Migg Tweeny" sounding name more like something from of W.C.
Fields himself. Even if Fields didn't contribute in the screenplay as
he did in his later works, he does retain his familiar character
throughout, from some of his classic routines down to a "hearty
Forward: "Klopstokia - A Far Away Country; 'Chief Exports - goats and nuts; Chief Imports, goats and nuts; Chief inhabitants, goats and nuts." Klopstokia, population 81,006, a mythological country somewhere on this planet where all the girls are named "Angela" and the men called "George." Enter Mr. Baldwin (George Barbier), manufacturer of Baldwin Brushes, and Migg Tweeny (Jack Oakie), his top salesman whose specialty is selling brushes that brush. On his way to the shipping dock, Migg meets and immediately falls in love with a girl named Angela (Susan Fleming), whose little brother, Willie (Dickie Moore) enjoys shooting arrows at his intended victims, believing all Americans are Indians, and father (W.C. Fields), the the president of Klopstokia. Klopstokia is bankrupt and in desperate need of $8 million. Because every citizen is athletically superhuman, with the president weight lifting ton-heavy objects and using one of his staff members as a human weight lift, Tweeney saves the day by having Klopstokians participate in the Olympics in Los Angeles. All 's well until Mata Machree (Lyda Roberti), a seductress spy, is hired by the president's trusted Secretary of State (Hugh Herbert) wanting to take control of Klopstokia, in order to keep the the Klopstokian team from winning.
Often compared with the Marx Brothers 1933 comedy-satire, DUCK SOUP (Paramount), MILLION DOLLAR LEGS doesn't have any landmark songs as "Hail to Klopstokia" in place of "Hail to Freedonia," but it does consist of tunes as "When I Get Hot" (sung by Lyda Roberti); and "One Hour With You" lifted from a 1932 Maurice Chevalier musical retitled "Wolf-Boogle-Jig" subtitled a Klopstokian love song (sung by Jack Oakie); and "Good Night." Members of the President's cabinet include Billy Gilbert (the sneezing Secretary of the Interior); Teddy Hart (Secretary of War); Irving Bacon (Secretary of the Navy); and Vernon Dent (Secretary of Agriculture). Hugh Herbert, noted for his eccentric millionaire caricatures and catch phrase, "woo-woo" during his years at Warner Brothers, interestingly plays a serious character whose specialty here is overpowering his opponents with arm wrestling. Susan Fleming, Oakie's love interest, who at times resembles Ruby Keeler, tap dancing performer of 1930s musicals for Warner Brothers, never achieved major stardom, yet is known basically as the wife of comedian Harpo Marx.
In spite that MILLION DOLLAR LEGS is a very funny 62 minute movie, it's rarely revived these days. It's reputation and popularity grew, however, through frequent television revivals in the 1970s and early 1980s. The title can often be conflicted with another MILLION DOLLAR LEGS(Paramount, 1939) movie, a college drama starring non-other than future 20th-Century-Fox star, Betty Grable, whose trademark were her "million dollar legs," but not as noteworthy as this 1932 antique.
Distributed on video cassette in 1998 as part of the WC Fields collection, MILLION DOLLAR LEGS only known contribution on cable TV was on Turner Classic Movies in June 4, 2001, as part of it's "Star of the Month" tribute to W.C. Fields. A wild and crazy comedy, MILLION DOLLAR LEGS is something that needs to be seen to be believed. Wolf Boogle Jig. (***)
I found Million Dollar Legs to be one of the funniest films I've seen. I was unaware that it is available on video.I'm going to get myself a copy,and show it to my friends who appreciate satire and/or slapstick in the style of the Marx Bros.
On this date Oct 13, Universal released this film on video. Besides WC Fields there are a host of well-known comedians who contribute to the merriment found in this film. Susan Fleming (the future Mrs Harpo Marx) plays WC Fields' daughter. Also there is Lyda Roberti A very sexy Femme Fatale. This film has many laughs packed into its short 62 minute length. Guaranteed well over a laugh a minute. this film is not to be missed by anyone who is a fan of The Great Man.
It has "the Woman no Man can resist" and "Woof Blugle Jig". All the rest is just frosting on a deliciously silly cake. I love W.C. Fields, but even if you are relieved to know that he does not dominate this film you can be assured that Lyda Roberti, Jack Oakie and Ben Turpin are more than capable of carrying out what is a very funny farce on the Olympics.
W. C Fields is the hot tempered President of Klopstokia, an impoverished country where the Presidency is decided by arm wrestling matches. All Klopstokians have impossible athletic abilitites. This 1932 classic is a fun, wacked out laff riot. The writing is perfect. (Sample Fields dialog; "The Constitution forbids me to hit a man under 200 pounds." "I just had my lunch of roast goat stuffed with eel." Lyda Roberti is hysterical as Mata Macree, a Brooklyn accented femme fetale "Not too clozz boyzz, youse catch on fi-yer." 62 minutes of genius comedy.
There is room among movie aficionados to do a full study about
"Ruritanian" Romances and films. Besides THE PRISONER OF ZENDA the
number of films dealing with fictitious foreign states include
musicals, comedies, and even straight political dramas. While all the
studios put them out, Paramount certainly seemed to do more of them
than the others. Look at THE LOVE PARADE, THE MERRY WIDOW, DUCK SOUP,
and the present film, MILLION DOLLAR LEGS. Basically these countries
have very poor populations ("Klopstokia" in MILLION DOLLAR LEGS is said
to be basically made of nuts and goats; "Marshovia" in THE MERRY WIDOW,
and "Freedonia" in DUCK SOUP depend on the largess of one rich woman in
each country). The politics are not really democratic. "Sylvania" in
THE LOVE PARADE is a monarchy, and has a particularly ruthless (if
hapless) ambassador at work for it in DUCK SOUP. "Freedonia" in DUCK
SOUP gives up democracy to satisfy a condition for a loan, and adopts
an eccentric dictator (although a sharp one). And, although
"Klopstokia" has a President, the election is based on physical
strength - not on actual popular demand. Moreover W.C.Fields is as
capricious in his way as Groucho Marx was in DUCK SOUP. Witness how
Fields imagines a General he is dictating a letter to has insulted him,
and breaks him to the rank of private.
It is a land of intrigue - for some incomprehensible reason Ben Turpin keeps turning up as a spy on the goings on of Fields and everyone else. The Vice President (Hugh Herbert - not quite so silly in this film as in others) keeps looking for ways of turning out the President either legally or by underhanded ways. When Klopstokia sends a large team of splendid athletes to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Herbert hires the world's greatest vamp/spy - Mata Machree (Lyda Roberti) to demoralize and split up the team (and so discredit the President).
Fields is forced to rely on Migg Sweeney, a brush salesman (Jack Oakie) who is romancing Fields' daughter Angela (Susan Fleming) by singing the national love song, "Woof Blugle Gif" which is based on the tune of "One Hour With Your" from the Paramount film of the same name. He fortunately never gets to sing the entire song in the movie - he does play it on his ukulele. Migg manages, despite his fear for his safety from his prospective father-in-law, does do the best he can to keep the team in tack, and to try to bring it to Olympic gold.
The film is fast, as well as funny. I would give it an 8 out of 10.
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