|Index||10 reviews in total|
It's the stuff of Hollywood legend how shrewd a businesswoman Sonia
Henie was. She had just won her third gold medal for figure skating in
the 1936 Olympics and was an international superstar, not to mention a
national heroine in her native Norway. Darryl F. Zanuck beat off
competition from the other studios for her and she made him pay dear
because she was well aware of her star status. Very much like that
other international sensation from Scandinavia, Jenny Lind in the
Zanuck hedged his bets a bit on her. One In A Million did not quite have the budget that Sonia's succeeding vehicles did. You can tell by looking at it. What he didn't cheapen was her skating routines because that purportedly is what the movie-going public was paying to see. He also gave her good support with a cast that included Don Ameche, Jean Hersholt, Ned Sparks, Arline Judge, the Ritz Brothers, Montagu Love, and Adolphe Menjou.
Sonia's life was destined to change dramatically in One In A Million. Adolphe Menjou, a Barnum style promoter is stranded in a small Swiss town after a mysterious fire burns down the town's leading hotel. That owner's bad luck is good luck for Jean Hersholt who owns a small inn and suddenly finds himself booked with Menjou's troupe. A pair of reporters, Don Ameche and Ned Sparks, also arrive smelling a story about that hotel fire. Their appetites for a story are whetted with the presence of a mysterious stranger also at the hotel, Montagu Love.
Hersholt is a former Olympic champion who is training his daughter for the 1936 Olympics. He was disqualified like Jim Thorpe for being a professional and he's worried about his daughter's amateur status. That's not of concern to Adolphe Menjou who sees a meal ticket as a professional. Ameche gets sidetracked from his hotel fire story to follow Henie's progress when he finds out who she is.
Arline Judge gets some of the best sharp shooter lines in this film as Menjou's wife, constantly deflating her ego ridden husband.
As was known to the world Sonia Henie won her third gold medal and this film was raced into production to capitalize on the event. The only mention of the German location is the presence of someone in a Nazi uniform in the crowd behind Ameche and Sparks. Also the Ritz Brothers get into an argument with some folks in the stand and one of them tells the other two very obviously Jewish looking siblings that 'we're not in Brooklyn'.
With the success of this film, especially in the European market, Sonia got bigger budgets for her succeeding films at 20th Century Fox. She was a bona fide movie star like no other the figure skating world ever produced. I do recall Carol Heiss the champion from the 1960 Olympics trying, but failing in a film career. Somehow I can't envision any of today's figure skaters doing what Henie did.
I could be wrong though.
"One in a Million" is a cheery, lighthearted mix of comedy, romance, songs
and ice skating dances, directed by Sidney Lanfield ("Sing, Baby, Sing"). It
is an admirable vehicle and showcase for the Norwegian Olympic skating
champion Sonja Henie in her American debut. The film derives some aspects
from Sonja's career. Sonja plays an amateur Swiss skater who is discovered
by an American theatrical troupe leader (Adolphe Menjou) and almost spoils
her by putting in a professional show until a charismatic reporter (Don
Ameche) rescues her and convinces her into making the right decision,
leading to her spectacular performance at Madison Square
"One in a Million" is not one of the better Fox musicals, but there are enjoyably fine moments, including some very funny comic acts by the Ritz Brothers, especially toward the end, and one memorable musical number "Who's Afraid Of Love", sung by Ameche.
It would be well to remember Sonia Henie as the prototype ice performer
in her day. It would also be well to remember the times this film was
made. Certainly it is devoid of all of the special effects and layers
of pictorial events contained in todays films (which, by the way, are
entirely unrealistic to us who are knowledgeable.)
Of course the script follows mid 1930s writing and I did not find any of the actors giving less than other of their performances of the times. Given that this was Sonia's first film, her acting must be given some forgiveness there, though I did not see what others apparently viewed as less than optimal. As to the "other 1936 Olympics film," it was merely a propaganda documentary and therefore not a comparison by any means.
As to Sonia's universal appeal, she went on to make many such films, and was known as a very smart businesswoman who went on to build great riches from investments and was the benefactor of many philanthropic ventures which was virtually unknown among actors of that era. On the strength of her appeal alone, I would rate her among the great women actresses of the time. I would recommend this film to any families who want wholesome "G" rated entertainment shown to their children.
Twentieth Century Fox's "One in a Million" provides some light
entertainment as well as the skating of Sonja Henie. The film has
historic interest in that part of it takes place at the 1936 Olympics
in Nazi Germany, though politics are never mentioned. Henie actually
won the Olympics in 1928, 1932, and 1936. This film was released in
December 1936 and apparently was done before the 1936 Winter Olympics
It's a slight story - Menjou and his troupe of performers arrive to work at a Swiss hotel, but find it has been burned down. They seek shelter at a nearby inn, run by Greta (Henie) and her father (Jean Hersholt). Reporter Don Ameche arrives to get the dope on the burnt hotel, apparently destroyed by an anarchist. Instead, he becomes interested in Greta and her Olympic quest and also her father's story. He was stripped of his Olympic medal in 1908 because he supposedly had worked as a professional, though he really hadn't. Menjou winds up endangering Greta's Olympic status in his zeal of signing her for his show.
There is lots of music in "One in a Million" but most of it, including the title song, isn't all that great. "Who's Afraid of Love?" is pretty, particularly when sung by Ameche, who had a lovely, light tenor voice that matched his charming film persona. Though Ameche continued to star in 20th Century Fox films and had a marvelous career, after Tyrone Power arrived, the roles that would have been intended for him went to Power, including Power's breakout role in "Lloyds of London." Menjou is a little over the top, and the Ritz Brothers I'm sure entertained the kiddie crowd with their slapstick. Arline Judge, as Menjou's wife, gives one of the best performances with her dry delivery. She had the best lines, too, so I suppose that helped. Hersholt as usual is sympathetic and wonderful.
Pretty, petite Henie was a natural for film. A vibrant presence on the ice, her skating, of course, was much less athletic than one sees today. As far as speed, spins, and showmanship, she could compete today. Some of her moves are no longer done - the pirouettes, which were really lovely, and that trademark dancing on "point" like a ballerina. The jump landings are interesting - rather than getting out of the jump quickly, the style in those days was to let the front leg continue to turn the skater into several circles, and jumps were landed with the head and body pointed downward. Some turns were done with a bent back leg, which looks really strange when viewed now. But Henie in her day elevated the sport of skating and should be appreciated for what she brought to it.
"One in a Million" is interesting for being Henie's debut. If you fast forward through the Ritz Brothers, you'll find it a lot more palatable.
A pretty ice skating Swiss Miss has a ONE IN A MILLION chance to become a road show star, but she will jeopardize her chances for competing in the 1936 Winter Olympics. Will a young American reporter help woo her into making the right decision?
Sonja Henie was Norway's ice queen when she won Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932 & 1936. Quickly going professional, she began a celebrated movie career at 20th Century Fox in 1936. ONE IN A MILLION was her American film debut. Beautiful & talented, as well as being a natural in front of the cameras, she carved out her niche during Hollywood's Golden Age. Although Henie's ice routines may look antiquated by comparison to modern champions, there was nothing antique about her dazzling smile or sparkling personality. Some of today's snowflake princesses could still learn a great deal from her.
The Studio surrounded 24-year old Miss Henie with an experienced supporting cast: Jean Hersholt as her gentle father; Adolphe Menjou as a penniless, brash road show impresario & Arline Judge as his plain spoken wife; Don Ameche as the American reporter who falls for Henie; acerbic Ned Sparks as a cantankerous photographer; and Montague Love as a mysterious stranger. Fans of the Ritz Brothers will appreciate their routines; Russian Borrah Minevitch and His Harmonica Gang are zany enough to almost make you forget how talented they were.
Ultimately, though, this is Sonja's show. She glides into the viewer's heart, while balancing on a thin edge of steel over frozen water.
SONJA HENIE made a few very dazzling skating films but this is not one
of them. The only saving grace for watching this is to see DON AMECHE
as her singing co-star who does nicely with an uninspired song number
and gives his usual charming and natural performance.
Unfortunately, surrounding Henie with a talented supporting cast did not work in this case. THE RITZ BROS. routines wear thin pretty fast and carry on for much too lengthy a time. The Harmonica Gang is a clever act but, again, too much footage devoted to their antics which, I believe, were shown to better advantage later on by The Ed Sullivan Show TV appearances.
The thin story is loosely based on Henie's own beginning as an Olympic Champion but is strictly formulaic in the telling. Henie's skating routines are hardly the best she ever offered on film. Indeed, one has to sit through long stretches of film dominated by the supporting actors in order to see even a glimpse of her on ice.
Adolphe Menjou must have thought the microphones weren't carrying his voice properly. He shouts all of his lines in what has to be one of his poorest performances in a comedy role. Arline Judge has some snappy one-liners to throw at him, but most of them are so mild that they fall flat. Fortunately, Jean Hersholt gives a nice, low-key performance as Sonja's caring dad.
Sorry to be so negative, but I did look forward to seeing Sonja in her American debut on film. She was later given much better material in her subsequent films--especially in SUN VALLEY SERENADE and WINTERTIME.
Her camera style had not yet been developed. The make-up artist has given her an unflattering hairdo (the plastered down curls in typical '30s style) and the cameraman did not capture the Henie personality as was done in all of her later films. Zanuck obviously decided to keep her lines to a minimum and throw most of the story and routines to the supporting cast. It doesn't work.
Strictly thumbs down on this one. Thankfully, there were better films in her future.
I am a long-time, huge Sonja Henie fan. In the figure skating world,
she was an innovator and a champion; she also had a wonderful
personality which always shone through.
Today, the art of ice skating has progressed to the degree that almost any young figure skater can easily replicate what she did and more. But that's beside the point.
Unfortunately this, her first movie, was not a good vehicle for her, and her subsequent movies for 20th-Century-Fox were very much better.
I think OIAM would have been so much better without the childish shenanigans of the Ritz Brothers and the silly antics of Borrah Minevitch who happened to be a first-class harmonica player and should have been allowed to play his music without the comedy.
The rest of the cast was all right, but nothing to rave about.
The songs were instantly forgettable and I'm pretty sure that no one came out of the cinema whistling the title song or, for that matter, any of the others.
I don't think this was a marvelously entertaining movie and cannot recommend it to any but the most die-hard Sonja Henie fan. By all means, go for any of the others.
ONE IN A MILLION (20th Century-Fox, 1936), directed by Sidney Lanfield,
started a new dimension to the movie musical, dancing on ice. It's been
said that if Fred Astaire can use dancing shoes, why not one doing the
same on ice skates? So marked the motion picture debut of three time
Olympic figure skating champion, Sonja Henie (1913-1969) in her adult
Shirley Temple, dimple-smiling, curly blonde hair likeness. Though
she's the main attraction, acquiring plenty of camera range close-ups,
Henie has stiff competition contending with specialty acts incorporated
into the plot as the wacky antics of Harry, Jimmy and Al, better known
as The Ritz Brothers; Borrah Minevitch ("Javoh") and his harmonica
playing rascals; the vocalizing of Leah Ray, and the amiable presence
of the up-and-coming Don Ameche, sans mustache, shortly before
achieving top leading man status for the studio.
Rather than presenting a biographical story of the Norweigian born Henie playing herself, followed by struggles and accomplishments leading to her Olympic skating success, the Leonare Praskins and Mark Kelly screenplay uses a thin ice story centering upon a struggling all girl orchestra troupe traveling through Europe by train lead by quick thinking Thadius "Tad" Spencer (Adolphe Menjou) and his sassy younger wife, Billie (Arline Judge). Arriving in Switzerland for their upcoming engagement, the troupe encounters some bad luck when the Grand Palace Hotel, where they're supposed to be staying and performing, has burned down. With no upcoming jobs in the horizon, they venture over towards a nearby inn run by Heinrich Muller (Jean Hersholt) and his young attractive daughter, Greta (Sonja Henie). Though initially having only one guest, Ratoffsky (Montagu Love), a mysterious man keeping only to himself, the inn is soon filled with forthcoming guests as Bob Harris (Don Ameche), an American reporter from the Paris Herald, and his ace photographer, Daniel Simpson (Ned Sparks), on an assignment. Learning that Muller, a former ice skating champion in the 1908 Olympics with controversy linked to his name, has been training Greta since childhood for the upcoming 1936 Olympics, Spencer schemes his way for some easy money to help pay the bill by promoting Greta's name while Bob comes upon some disturbing news that might disqualify the young ice skater from fulfilling her father's dream in competing.
Capitalizing on both the Henie name and the 1936 Olympics, the simple story contains a handful of agreeable new tunes that extend a 60 minute screenplay into a 94 minute production. With music and lyrics by Sidney D. Mitchell and Lew Pollack, the musical interludes consist of: "One in a Million" (sung by Leah Ray); Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" (sung by The Ritz Brothers); "The Moonlight Waltz" (instrumental, skated by Sonja Henie and ensemble); "We're Back in Circulation Again" (sung by Dixie Dunbar, Adolphe Menjou, Sonja Henie, cast); "Lovely Lady in White" (instrumental/skating by Henie); "The Horror Boys from Hollywood: Karloff, Laughton and Lorre" (The Ritz Brothers); "Who's Afraid of Love?" (sung by Leah Ray and Don Ameche); "One in a Million" (six minute harmonica specialty by Borrah Minevitch and his Rascals); "Lovely Lady in White" (instrumental number skated by Henie); "The Skating Waltz," and Georges Bizet's "The Toreador Song" (both with the Ritz Brothers); and "One in a Million" (sung by chorus, skated by Henie).
With the title tune getting enough reprises to score a hit, it's interesting to note there was different song titled "One in a Million" by Jack Scholl introduced to the screen by Ross Alexander in a minor Warner Brothers comedy, GOING HIGHBROW (1935). In fact, there was even a very recent programmer titled ONE IN A MILLION (Chesterfield, 1935) starring Dorothy Wilson, but it's this edition of ONE IN A MILLION that became the big event of the season. The ice skating ensembles choreographed by Jack Haskell is quite eye-filling, with the introductory number somewhat influenced by the imaginative Busby Berkeley.
Almost forgotten today as the Sonie Henie name herself, ONE IN A MILLION became a handful of Henie musicals (1936-1943) distributed by 20th Century-Fox Home Video during the 1990s. Cable television presentations to ONE IN A MILLION have consisted of the USA Channel (late 1980s); American Movie Classics (1993-94); and eventually the Fox Movie Channel. For being the first ice skating musical, it still gets by for Henie enthusiasts as one in a million. (***1/2 Olympic trophies)
This first Sonja Henie film was a surprise hit in 1936 and launched her onto a successful film career. Not bad considering how rare it was for those coming from successful sports careers to sustain such a thing (Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe possibly the only others---Esther Williams' sports background was negligible). This film's release coincided with her third straight gold medal performance at the Winter Olympics (she was champ in 1928 and 1932). (As a side note, it should be remembered that not only were the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Nazi Germany, so were that year's Winter Olympics. Granted this has nothing to do with Ms. Henie, but reviewers are bringing up the subject, so this note may quell any potential confusion over the Olympics issue.) As for "One in a Million" it is a light concoction that features Don Ameche in only his third film role and the Ritz Brothers in only their second feature film. So, lots of early work here. The results: miserable to okay. Ameche already shows his easy charm, here playing a reporter tracking an anarchist bomber story to Switzerland where he meets up with hotel proprietor Hersholt and his "gifted amateur" ice skating daughter Henie. The anarchist story fizzles but Ameche moves on to romance with Henie and her shot at the Olympics. Menjou is the brassy (maybe too much so) wheeler-dealer showman who gets Henie to perform in his show and nearly costs her the amateur standing that she needs in order to qualify for the Olympics. Along for the knockabout ride is the inimitable Ned Sparks, as Ameche's photographer partner, doing what he does best: providing that Buster Keaton-lookalike face and steely foghorn monotone delivery. Also, as part of Menjou's show, we get the Ritz Brothers who provide some strenuously awful comedy (Harry Ritz mugging so ferociously he looks as if he's herniating himself). Henie acquits herself adequately. Strangely enough, she was Norway's golden girl athlete, yet the film makes her Swiss for no apparent reason. Couldn't she be a Norwegian hotel proprietor's daughter? The other interesting aspect is her skating. We see the Olympic caliber work of a 1930's era skater, which is far simpler and less dazzling than what we've grown accustom to. Her "show-stopping" number at the end would be a warm-up for today's super-skaters. So, as a time capsule involving Henie this film is worth watching, but otherwise it's mostly light-headed knockabout nonsense not worth your time.
This is a truly unappealing movie. The humor is as broad as a barn. The Ritz Brothers? Well, apparently they have their fans. Count me as not one (on just this one viewing.) I had never seen Sonja Henie before tonight. Her skating is certainly good but kind of dull to watch. I guess this was her debut so no comment on her acting skills. Now, about that Olympic Games she is preparing for .... Didn't someone named Leni do a whole movie about those games? A very good movie but extremely controversial Games? Adolph Menjou could never carry a movie. He was a reliably capable performer. The same goes for Don Ameche, whose best is "Midnight." Arline Judge is amusing here. But is that a reason to sit through an hour and a half of pratfalls, corny jokes, and clichés?
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