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Edward F. Cline
Tycoon John Glidden, dying though still vigorous, is so dissatisfied with his relatives and associates that, rather than will his money to any of them, he decides to give it away in million-dollar amounts to strangers picked from the city directory. He picks a meek china salesman; a prostitute; a forger; two ex-vaudevilleans who hate road hogs; a condemned man; a mild-mannered clerk; a boisterous marine; and an oppressed inmate of an old ladies' home.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
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"If I Had a Million" (Paramount, 1932), directed by seven directors including Ernst Lubitsch and James Cruze, etc., is the first of it's kind released during the early sound era, an all star cast with eight separate stories. The central character is the supposedly dying John Glidden (Richard Bennett), an elderly millionaire, who would rather leave his fortune to various strangers whose names he picks with a medicine dropper from a telephone directory, than to his immediate relatives. The first name he picks happens to be John D. Rockefeller! (If this movie were to be remade today, it probably would be Bill Gates!) Turning the pages, he settles with the next name in line. The story to each beneficiary is told.
(1) Henry Peabody (Charles Ruggles), a nervous clerk in a china-ware store finds his paycheck is limited by him breaking all the china. He must also cope with his nagging wife (Mary Boland) who awaits at the door to get and spend his paycheck money. See the results when Henry receives his million dollar check by Glidden; (2) Violet Smith (Wynne Gibson), a waterfront prostitute, is given the check personally by Glidden in a bar, and after being convinced the check is "not a gag," she uses the money to sleep alone in a hotel. This short segment was sometimes the one that got the ax from local TV prints; (3) Eddie Jackson (George Raft), a check forger wanted by the police, receives the check from Glidden, but finds he can't cash it; (4) Emily LaRue (Alison Skipworth), and Rollo (WC Fields), a vaudevillian and juggler, are owners of a boardinghouse. They acquire a brand new car, and after a drive, they return with a car wrecked that was caused by a "road hog." After obtaining the million dollar check by Glidden, they purchase a fleet of cars and get even with the "road hogs," about town by having a car smashing day. Of all the episodes, this is the one most remembered, even long after the movie is over; (5) From the comedic standpoint comes a dramatic theme featuring John Wallace (Gene Raymond), a condemned murderer, who pleads innocent, getting the check shortly before he is to be executed in the electric chair. But can he use the money in time to get a new lawyer and trial? Frances Dee appears briefly as John's wife who visits him in prison. This segment is another one that was usually cut from TV prints. It's now restored; (6) Phineas Lambert (Charles Laughton), a meek little office clerk, gets his check by mail, and in his own special way, walks up a flight of stairs and goes through office door to office door to go tell his employer what he can do with his job. (Everyone's dream, I gather, then and now). This short segment, done mostly in mood and silence, is in many ways, priceless; (7) Steven Gallagher (Gary Cooper), a U.S. Marine in the brig, gets his check on April Fool's Day, and upon his release, decides to give it away to pay a back debt to a lunch stand owner. Although this is a so-so segment, the result is funny. Jack Oakie and Roscoe Karns add some comedy relief as Cooper's Marine buddies; (8) The most touching and longest segment is the last one with Mary Walker (May Robson), a forgotten grandmother couped up in the Idylwood Home for the Aged, who must tolerate unbearable rules and regulations by the unsympathetic supervisor (Blanche Frederici), until she gets her check from Glidden and gets her revenge.
Each story in "If I Had a Million" speaks for itself as to what ordinary people would do or want to do if they had that opportunity to have a million dollars. As in most episodic movies, some segments are good, others could be weak, and maybe one or two that could be best and the most talked about.
Frequently shown on commercial television back in the 1960s until the 1980s, with certain segments taken out to fit in the usual 90 minute time slot with added commercial breaks, "If I Had a Million," did resurface, much to the delight of classic movie fans, on Turner Classic Movies from July 2001 to May 2002. A video or DVD copy with complete story and segments can be purchased by going on the website of Movies Unlimited. (***)
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