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A dying millionaire instructs his lawyers to drop twenty-five purses containing a $100 bill on the streets of New York City. Four honest 'finders' return them to the lawyers. Under the terms of the will, each of them is given $5,000, and the first one to double that money within 30 days will receive the entire estate: $1,000,000. However, the greedy relatives cut from the will are determined to thwart each one's plans. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. It was released on DVD 14 November 2006 as one of 5 titles in Universal's Bing Crosby Screen Legend Collection, and again 11 November 2014 as one of 24 titles in Universal's Bing Crosby Silver Screen Collection. See more »
'Double or Nothing' is one of the long series of pleasant musical-comedy vehicles for Bing Crosby which were ground out so efficiently by Paramount in the late 1930s. This is one of Bing's best films from this period (not yet the peak of his career), and it features an excellent supporting cast, including veteran supporting actors William Frawley and Samuel S. Hinds. Interestingly, Frawley and Hinds are both cast against type here. Frawley usually played cynics or outright crooks, whilst Hinds usually played figures of great moral strength and probity. In 'Double or Nothing', Frawley is naive enough to get suckered by Hinds, who here plays a respected stockbroker from an old-money family: a typical Hinds role, except that this time he's secretly a crook.
SLIGHT SPOILERS COMING. The plot of this film is intriguing. An eccentric millionaire arranges for wallets to be scattered throughout New York City, each wallet containing some cash and a return address. Bing Crosby plays his usual role of an easy-going guy with no money, but in this film he's honest with it. When Bing's dog finds one of the wallets and brings it to him, Bing realises he's got to return the cash to the address inside the wallet. Three other people (Frawley, Martha Raye and Andy Devine) have also returned the wallets they found. All the other wallets were found by people who kept the money.
It turns out that this was an honesty test. The wealthy scion of the Clark family has decided to disinherit his scheming relatives in favour of these four honest souls. Each is given a cheque for one million dollars under unusual terms: each one must try to double this money within 30 days, by honest enterprise. Whoever succeeds will inherit the entire Clark fortune. If all four fail, the fortune goes to Clark's greedy relatives.
Surprisingly, Frawley loses his million straight off when Jonathan Clark (Hinds) offers to invest it for him. Frawley knows that it's in Jonathan's interests for Frawley to LOSE his money (so that Jonathan can inherit), yet he hands his cheque to Jonathan anyway. I found this extremely contrived, but the casting of Frawley and Hinds against type brings some novelty to this scene.
Jangle-voiced Andy Devine (whom I always disliked) invests his money in a driving range. Hollywood's great comedy drunkard Arthur Housman wreaks mayhem for Devine. Martha Raye plays a former striptease artist named Liza Lou. This is good casting; Martha Raye is best remembered for her peculiar facial features, but at this point in her career she had an excellent figure. Liza Lou used to take off her clothes to the tune of a ditty called 'It's On, It's Off' ... and now whenever she hears this tune she finds herself compelled to take her clothes off. Naturally, the scheming Clarks arrange for a steam calliope to play this tune at a very embarrassing moment.
'Double or Nothing' is a Bing Crosby movie, so you can guess which one of the four contestants wins the millions. Bing uses his inheritance to start up a nightclub. For some reason, the greeter in the nightclub is a donkey... or rather a stuntman who walks on all fours, wearing a surprisingly realistic donkey costume. This was rather a bizarre touch that didn't add anything to the movie. Also, Bing (who was right-handed) plays a character named Lefty, but in this role Bing doesn't seem to be more left-handed than usual. Benny Baker (whom I never found funny) makes a brief and unpleasant appearance as a sailor in a hire-rowboat.
The songs in 'Double or Nothing' are pleasant but unremarkable, and there's some classical music during Martha Raye's water ballet. A nice time-passer: not one of Bing's best films, but definitely much better than 'Doctor Rhythm' and some other Bing bungles. I'll rate 'Double or Nothing' 7 out of 10.
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