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Impoverished Jane Miller is loved by millionaire Roger and newspaperman William. Though William warns her otherwise, she goes with the millionaire to his French chateau where she risks terrible cruelty and even death. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
For modern viewers, the title 'She Wanted a Millionaire' makes this movie sound like a comedy, but it was actually meant to be moralistic: she wanted a millionaire, and look what she got. There's a very judgmental tone hanging over this entire film; the audience are manipulated to perceive that the female protagonist's troubles are due to her own moral choices. Proceed at your own risk.
Joan Bennett plays Jane, a poor girl from Missouri. Her father (Douglas Cosgrove) spent his whole career as a railway brakeman. William (Spencer Tracy) works for the same railway line as an engine driver (a somewhat more macho job than the brakeman's, though not much more difficult). Jane wants to get the hell out of Missouri and live the high life, but that takes money. The action and dialogue make it clear that William is in love with her, but his is an unselfish love. He knows he hasn't got the wealth or glamour that would attract a gold-digger like Jane.
Because William wants the best for her, he encourages Jane to enter a beauty contest. She wins the Miss Missouri title, then enters the Miss Universe pageant. (The beauty contest shown in this movie appears to be fictional, so I assume that the real-life Miss Universe beauty pageant was not inaugurated until after this film's release.) One of the Miss Universe contest's judges is wealthy Roger Norton, played by James Kirkwood in full Snidely Whiplash mode. He proposes to Jane. As soon as she takes a look at his bank balance, it's love at first sight.
VERY OBVIOUS SPOILERS COMING. It's no surprise that Jane's marriage to Roger is a mistake, and it's also no surprise that William is waiting for her. What did surprise me was the extent of Roger's villainy. Not only is he cruel to Jane, but he actually beats her. In fact, he physically abuses her to the point that her life is in danger. Towards the climax, this movie veers into the suspense genre ... which is jarring, as we haven't been prepared for this change of mood. I've been told (but I haven't verified) that this movie was inspired by a real-life case that was well-known in America in 1932; perhaps some of the more improbable twists in this movie's plot were (dread phrase!) "based on a true story".
Spencer Tracy's immensely subtle acting talents are quite wasted on this material, which isn't subtle at all. Oddly, William Collier Snr was one of this movie's scriptwriters. Collier was a successful actor/playwright who specialised in comedy, and he was notorious for his penchant for practical jokes. There are several hilarious anecdotes about the practical jokes that Collier played on his drinking buddy John Barrymore, and vice versa. I'm surprised to see a joker like Collier turning his hand to a borderline melodrama like 'She Wanted a Millionaire'. I'll rate this movie only 4 points out of 10.
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