If I Had a Million (1932) Poster

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Stars Shine In Celebrated Sequential Film
Ron Oliver12 June 2001
A grumpy old tycoon postpones dying a while longer so that he can give his fortune away to strangers, a million dollars at a time.

IF I HAD A MILLION is an almost legendary example of a rarely used cinematic form, the episodic film. Really a series of common-theme shorts strung together, produced by a conglomeration of writers & directors and using a large array of actors, the episodic film is an easy recipe for disaster if done wrong. Episodes compete or even clash, while the brevity of the individual sections can give the audience scant time to empathize with the characters, resulting in boredom.

Here, however, spotlighting the brilliant spectrum of talent available to Paramount Studios, everything jells quite nicely. Some episodes are more famous than others - that is inevitable. But the entire picture as a whole has cohesion & sparkle, something to grab & hold the viewer's attention. Mixing comedy, drama, and some surprisingly effective pathos, the plot of IF I HAD A MILLION - while today a mite creaky, acknowledging its age - should keep most contemporary audiences well satisfied.

Director Ernst Lubitsch & writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz are representative of the exceptional talent behind the camera. On film the following stars perform, all excellent:

Prologue - Richard Bennett as the millionaire.

Episode 1 - Timid, henpecked Charlie Ruggles & Mary Boland as his domineering wife.

Episode 2 - Wynne Gibson (uncredited) as a world-weary prostitute.

Episode 3 - George Raft as a criminal forger.

Episode 4 - Allison Skipworth & W. C. Fields as ex-vaudevillians with a special aversion to road hogs.

Episode 5 - Gene Raymond (uncredited) as a prisoner on Death Row.

Episode 6 - Charles Laughton as a lowly clerk in a huge office.

Episode 7 - Gary Cooper, Jack Oakie & Roscoe Karns as carousing Marines.

Episode 8 - May Robson as a feisty old lady in a very restrictive rest home.

Fields, Laughton & Ruggles - playing variations on the worm that turns - have come in for a lion's share of the praise down through the years, but all the performers do a very fine job, with Gene Raymond & May Robson especially poignant.

Movie mavens will enjoy spotting many familiar faces among the uncredited character actors: Grant Mitchell, Clarence Muse, Frances Dee, Berton Churchill in Episode 5; Joyce Compton & Lucien Littlefield in Episode 7; Dewey Robinson, Margaret Siddon, Gail Patrick in Episode 8; and Samuel S. Hinds as one of the millionaire's lawyers.

Episode 2 presents some pre-Production Code situations and Episode 5 is relentlessly downbeat. These sequences were often excised for television showings in decades past.
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Something for everyone: comedy, melodrama, a hint of sex and several car crashes
wmorrow5928 November 2005
I love this movie, it's a special favorite of mine, and the memory of my first viewing of it thirty-some years ago is so pleasant that it's hard for me to be objective about its merits. That said, after seeing it again recently I'm more convinced than ever that If I Had a Million is one of the most underrated films of the '30s. As far as I'm concerned this is a movie that has it all: comedy, pathos, irony, melodrama, a hint of sex, several car crashes, and a cast boasting some of the greatest character actors of all time. Maybe it isn't perfect, maybe the tone is erratic and a couple of segments are a bit weak, but taken as a whole it's as entertaining as any film of its era.

The story concerns millionaire industrialist John Glidden, who is ill and believed to be dying. Sick he may be, but Glidden is nevertheless energized by the contempt he feels for the greedy relatives who have gathered to await his death -- and to collect whatever monies they might inherit, of course. Glidden is so infuriated by this hypocrisy that his anger gives him a new lease on life, and it inspires an idea that fills him with glee: he decides to leave his fortune to total strangers, one million dollars at a time. At first the plan is driven by spite, but as it unfolds Glidden becomes increasingly interested in the people who receive his bequest, in how they react to their unexpected luck and what impact the money has on their lives.

Made in 1932 in the depths of the Great Depression, If I had a Million surely must have represented a mouth-watering wish-fulfillment fantasy at the time of its release, when even a hundred dollars would have amounted to an amazing windfall for many viewers. The cast of familiar faces in cameo roles was a strong selling point in the wake of Grand Hotel and other star-studded extravaganzas, and naturally it's fun to see Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Charles Laughton, etc., among the players, but watching the film again today I am especially struck by the performance of Richard Bennett as millionaire John Glidden. Bennett (father of Joan and Constance) was a veteran stage actor who recognized this role for the plum assignment it was, and threw himself into it with gusto. His exuberant performance really drives the opening scenes and gives the story the strong presence needed to link the segments in a satisfying way. Bennett, wild-eyed and giddy, kicks off the show with all stops out, and this not only grabs our attention immediately but also serves to sharpen the contrast with the more subdued Glidden who returns at intervals throughout.

Reviewers commenting on this film tend to single out the comedy segments featuring Laughton, Fields, and Charles Ruggles, and they're all terrific -- although Laughton's scene is best recalled for its extreme brevity and resounding punchline -- but some of the dramatic vignettes of If I had a Million are equally notable. Wynne Gibson is poignant as the waterfront prostitute who can't believe Glidden is on the level, while George Raft, never the most nuanced of actors, is surprisingly effective as the small-time crook who comes to realize that his ostensible good fortune is not a blessing but a curse. The maudlin Death Row sequence featuring Gene Raymond has never been anyone's favorite, but at least it's brief. Two older actresses, Alison Skipworth and May Robson, each make a strong impression in separate segments. Skipworth is a joy as an aging vaudevillian settling into retirement, and she more than holds her own alongside W.C. Fields in the crowd-pleasing "road hog" sequence. Robson is gallant and deeply sympathetic in the final vignette, set in a home for old ladies, where she serves as a fierce advocate for the women against the home's repressive, tyrannical director. This last sequence is the longest in the film and teeters on the brink of sentimentality, but ultimately leaves us with the most satisfying denouement of them all.

As I noted up top my first viewing of this movie was a very pleasant one. In the summer of 1970 I rented a 16mm print of If I had a Million to show at a party, and it scored a big hit. The kids loved the car crashes, Charlie Ruggles' plate-smashing spree, and Laughton's Bronx cheer, while the grown-ups appreciated the clothing, slang, automobiles and general trappings of the early '30s, a period they remembered first-hand. In later years I found that broadcasts of the film on TV usually lacked the sequences featuring Wynne Gibson and Gene Raymond, and still later I found that the movie itself had become scarce, rarely shown anywhere and never officially offered in a home-viewable format. This limbo is apparently due to legal issues involving copyrights, but I do hope the matter will be resolved eventually. If I had a Million is a delightful film that richly deserves rediscovery by a new generation!
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Who wants to be a millionaire?
lugonian9 March 2001
"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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Great episodic comedy that is too often overlooked
zpzjones17 May 2004
Eight directors wow! I think this movie may still hold some kind of record for most directors on one production. But then again! This is actually eight small productions rolled into one. Robert Altman's Shortcuts tried the same kind of thing minus the eight directors. My favorite parts are the Wynne Gibson/prostitute sequence- a gem, Charlie Ruggles & Mary Boland/henpecked husband "Gimme Your Check Dear", WC Field & Allison Skipworth/Roadhog! Roadhog!, and of course dear ole May "I Can Bake Biscuits" Robson in the last sequence,... Fernwood home for elderly ladies. You gotta give Paramount credit for trying something different with eight different well-known directors set loose to run amuck. The moral of this movie or 'movies' is the underlying theme of money. What would you do if someone just came into your life one day and gave you a million dollars as Richard Bennett does in each of the eight stories? This movie was released near the start of the Depression so it must have plucked then audiences' nerves. A million dollars was a dream for many in 1932. And probably a dream for Paramount hoping this would be box office gold. I wish this movie was made a staple of the Thanksgiving-into-Christmas season period just like that classic 'It's A Wonderful Life'. This is a great comedy to be viewed over and over again. And even though it's a comedy it has a good ethical theme. It just gets better with each viewing. Just pray for a vhs or dvd release.

(** Years ago this movie 'HAD' been released on home Laserdisc in the late 1980s-early 1990s)
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Unique multi-story rarity
Glenn Andreiev4 December 2001
IF I HAD A MILLION is one of those rare films worth having on tape. I was thrilled to find this back in the 1980's, and it's a prized item of my collection.

The plot is simple, but crazy. A dying billionaire, sick of his greedy relatives, decides to randomly give million dollar checks to strangers picked via the phone book. Since this is in the middle of the depression, the results are eye-popping!

My two favorite segments involve George Raft as a petty thief unable to cash the check because the law is after him. His downward spiral is rather chilling.

The other favorite segment, and the one this 1932 film is most famous for is the one where two eccentric ex-vaudevillians (W.C Fields and Alison Skipworth) decide to run selfish road-hogs off the road. Road rage has never been funnier than in this segment. Fields' angry comments to fellow drivers is a scream.

The rest of the segments run from sappy (a man going to the electric chair gets the check) to sweetly funny (The almost wordless segment with Charles Laughton, May Robson as a fiesty rest-home victim, and Gary Cooper as an out of control Marine) This film is worth a million!
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Matt Barry3 March 2000
This is one of those films that exists in a cinematic no-man's land, because it is in a legal copyright tangle. That is very unfortunate, because IF I HAD A MILLION is one of the finest of the early talkies. The story has a dying millionaire who doesn't want to see his fortune go to greedy relatives. Instead, he selects some names at random from the city directory and decides to give them each a million dollars. First, he gives the money to Charles Ruggles, a henpecked husband who is always having his salary deducted when he accidentally breaks china at the china shop that he works at. His nagging wife won't let him be. So, to get revenge, he takes his million to the store and breaks every piece of china in the place. Wynne Gibson as Violet is the next to get her million. She is a prostitute at a local bar, and she takes her money to rent a private hotel room for the night, to sleep alone. Gangster George Raft is unable to cash the check because he's been arrested for forgery. Next, three marines believe the check to be a fake and give it to a friend, who finds its true worth and spends it on himself. Convict Gene Raymond learns of his new-found fortune as he is being led to the electric chair. Office clerk Charles Laughton takes his money and tells off his boss. And in GRANDMA, kindly old May Robson uses the money to spruce up the old ladies home, Idyllwood. But the highlight is the W.C. Fields sequence, in which he, fed up with road hogs, buys a whole lot of used cars to use as an army against the oncoming traffic. All in all, IF I HAD A MILLION remains a true classic.
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A great batch of short stories
ROCKY-197 October 2006
Thank heavens for fans of W.C. Fields, because it is they who have kept this diamond in the public forum after all these years. The film certainly does not belong to Fields, as his Road Hog routine is just one of eight stories of varying lengths. But fortunately, his fans discovered this film so the rest of us can truly enjoy everything else it has to offer, as well. A collection of writers presented eight stories of people who get an unexpected windfall from a steel tycoon. Some are funny, some are touching, some are brilliant in their brevity, some just make you think. Just desserts is the main theme. The Eddie Jackson (George Raft) segment is twistedly ironic enough to be a "Twilight Zone" episode. And EVERYBODY wants to be Phineas Lambert (Charles Laughton). Great writing, great cast - a good time.
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Seeing this film feels the same way.
ptb-88 November 2009
What a terrific 1932 film! Paramount's expensive depression comedy drama is one of the very best films made in the '30s and both a poignant and hilarious look at life in 1932 America. If you saw 42ND STREET and American MADNESS and perhaps THE KID FROM SPAIN all made the same year, you would have possibly the definitive early 30s films that allow as full a view of emotions and community as could be found. The cast is astonishing.. all the Paramount A- level stars, 8 of the best directors and 8 truly inspired vignettes present a balanced view of ordinary people 'winning a million dollars'... and their next move. My personal favorite was the prostitute who just wanted a good night's sleep, unmolested, and in a clean bed. The production values are huge, massive sets and elaborate scenes, especially the short one with Charles Laughton... the attention to detail and the fully realized settings are indicative of a very expensive film. All 8 scenes are terrific, not a slouch among them, and the final sequence in the old ladies home is particularly touching. George Raft's con man sequence and Gene Raymond's electric chair scenes are real eyeopeners given the irony involved. IF I HAD A MILLION is a film to find and celebrate. How amazing to have seen this in a 3000 seat cinema in 1932! imagine the cheering from the audience in the comedy scenes! What a crowd pleaser. In Australia this film ran prime time Saturday night 8.30pm on Nationwide free to air TV, such is its treasured reputation. It scored a ratings hit. True! check The TV guides here for ABC2 Saturday night Nov 1st 2009 if you do not believe me.
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One chance in a million
theowinthrop24 October 2005
This film was one of those episodic films that occasionally were turned out by studios (Paramount in particular) where each story was only tangentially connected to a running theme. Other examples are O. HENRY'S FULL HOUSE (five of O. Henry's short stories) and WE'RE NOT MARRIED (five stories of couples erroneously married by Victor Moore, before his justice of the peace powers legally began). TALES OF MANHATTAN was another sample of this type of film, using the same man's evening suit as the connecting link between the stories. American films are not the only ones that use this. Somerset Maugham's stories were anthologized in three films: QUARTET, TRIO, and ENCORE in Great Britain, and the classic deja vu horror tale, DEAD OF NIGHT is also episodic.

Here the running thread is John Giddens, a wealthy man who is in bad health. Played by stage actor Richard Bennett, Giddens is angry at all the over-attention being given to him by his family and physicians. The latter don't seem to be making him better (but are collecting large fees from him), and the former are actually wondering how soon before he dies so they can read his will. He tells his lawyer that he's tired of all these leeches around him. He decides to give the money away, a million dollars at a time, to total strangers he picks out of the phone book.

IF I HAD A MILLION was, actually, the prototype of a popular television series of the 1950s called THE MILLIONAIRE. The idea of THE MILLIONAIRE is basically what is the plot of IF I HAD A MILLION: if somebody plopped a fortune into your hands, what would you do with it? The eight people vary in background and situations. Charlie Ruggles works in a store that sells china. He is very nervous, and his bullying boss and his henpecking wife (Mary Boland, of course), don't help matters. When he gets the check, he demonstrates what he thinks of fancy china and glass to his boss. Similarly downtrodden corporate clerk Charles Laughton is barely noticed by his bosses at his desk job. When he gets the check, and realizes what it means, he goes to the head of the company, and in one moment shows what he feels about being a downtrodden underling. Wynn Gibson uses the money to finally get the good night sleep her normal job has always denied her. W.C. Fields and Allison Skipworth hate road hogs, as their recently purchased new car was destroyed by one. They decide to buy nearly thirty cars to destroy as many of the road pests as possible.

George Raft is a professional forger, who thinks this check is the answer to his problems about avoiding arrest. The problem for him is, will anyone cash his perfectly good check. Similarly Gene Raymond is happy to have the money - you see he is on death row, and with the check he can now mount the appeal he needs for a new trial (or can he?).

Gary Cooper is a slick soldier who knows all the angles. He and his two buddies figure the check is a phony joke, and they pass it off on a cook they owe money to for hamburgers they charged. Later their laughs disappear when they realize they gave the cook too much of a tip. And best is last: May Robson as an independent old lady who will not put up with the tyranny in an old age home. She not only uses the money to restore the spirit to her fellow old age victims, but she even manages to restore spirit (in the end) to her new friend, Richard Bennett.

The film was not all comic - the sequences with Raft and Raymond are actually tragic, and Gibson's success is after a lifetime of unhealthy activity (one hopes her health is good). But it was such a wide variety of stories and reactions to sudden wealth that the film remains a wonderful film experience.
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preppy-35 June 2001
Superb, episodic film showing what various people would do if they got a million dollars. The cast includes all of Paramount's biggest stars at the time and all the segments are by different directors. All the episodes are excellent--some are tragic, some are hilarious (the Fields one especially). All the acting is great (Raft especially) and there's never a dull moment. All of the episodes are short and don't wear out their welcome (the film is under 90 minutes). Basically, one of the best all-star films of the 30s--right up there with "Grand Hotel" or "The Women". If you get a chance, see it! It's well worth it.
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Charles Laughton Section - 2 versions
roger-51315 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Charles Laughton section was the first I saw of this film when it was run at The National film Theatre in London in the 60s.

It seems there were two versions of this part made. For the US all Laughton does is blow a large raspberry (Bronx Cheer for those in the US). In a version that was, presumably, made for the British audiences he also does a perfect V sign (palm back) which is the equivalent of 'the finger' in the US.

Was this because the Americans did not understand the meaning of the V sign or was it to avoid offending their sensibilities. We will probably never know. Either way it a marvellous part of the film.
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The Thread Of Millions
bkoganbing3 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If I Had A Million, dollars that is, has mega-millionaire Richard Bennett deciding to leave his hard earned fortune to complete strangers rather than the greedy, grasping relatives he has. An eye dropper squirts water at random on the names of people from the phone book and they become millionaires. The film focuses on the stories of eight people and how the money affects them or doesn't in a couple of situations.

Each one is a classic short story in and of itself showing examples of the human condition. The first involves henpecked salesman Charles Ruggles in a china shop where the nervous little guy gets a promotion from bookkeeping to the floor, but actually is losing money because of the china he breaks. It might not such a strain except that when he goes home he has to listen to the non=stop mouth of Mary Boland his wife. When he gets his million he releases his built up tension in the best way possible. In a much briefer segment, Charles Laughton who is an anonymous clerk in a huge form gives the president a one syllable thought as to what he thinks of him and the firm.

Not all the segments are comedic. George Raft is a known forger who because of his notoriety can't cash his new found wealth in for getaway money. He trades the check in just to get a night's sleep at a skid row flop house. Gene Raymond is on death row and ready for the electric chair, the money will be one nice inheritance for Frances Dee, but Raymond goes bonkers because he'd like to use it to get a high priced lawyer and get off, but it's way too late.

The most poignant episode of all involves prostitute Wynne Gibson and being that If I Had A Million was before the Code her profession is not just subtly suggested. The first thing she wants to do is get a room at the best hotel around and get a good night's sleep, alone. Ms. Gibson turns in the best performance in the entire film.

The accent goes back to comedy as Alison Skipworth and W.C. Fields use their money to go on a crusade against 'road hogs' when her brand new car is totaled by a reckless driver. And through a strange set of circumstances because Marine Gary Cooper is in the guardhouse and Bennett and the check visit him on April 1, he just dismisses the whole thing. Hamburger stand owner Lucien Littlefield winds up with what Cooper and his buddies Jack Oakie and Roscoe Karns think is a worthless check. They're back in the guardhouse as they see Littlefield in an ostentatious display of his new found wealth.

In a fitting finale Bennett delivers a check to May Robson a resident in an old folk's home who like the rest feels more like a prisoner. She does the greatest good in bringing about needed reforms in that place and takes a little pleasure in dealing with the staff as she buys the joint.

The stories are all woven together through the thread of Bennett's millions, but each can stand on its own. All the stories have an O'Henry like quality to them, with minimal writing, in some cases very minimal all make their points about the human condition and the varying ways sudden fortune can affect us. Many different writers and eight different directors contribute to If I Had A Million. Usually that's a recipe for disaster, here it's recipe for entertainment.

With no small amount of enlightenment. The film is as fresh as it was made during the Depression. That's because the subject of money and what it brings is eternal. If I Had A Million is one film that could be updated and remade today. But could you ever get a cast as good as this one?
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IF I HAD A MILLION (Various, 1932) ***
MARIO GAUCI28 December 2008
This is surely among Hollywood's first and most celebrated all-star compendiums, which also involved a plethora of equally notable writers and directors, but is best-remembered now for Ernst Lubitsch's contribution (it's actually the briefest episode of the lot!) and the hilarious W.C. Fields segment. The narrative revolves around wealthy but eccentric dying industrialist Richard Bennett (who's wonderful here, though his only other notable role was a brief dramatic turn in Orson Welles' THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS [1942]) who, rather than leave his fortune to his "vulture" relatives and collaborators, decides to donate it indiscriminately by randomly choosing the names of eight strangers from the telephone book! Though it's stylishly handled all the way through, the episodes alternate jarringly between comedy, irony, melodrama and sentimentality – making the whole somewhat patchy.

Besides, a few of them are insubstantial (the Lubitsch/Charles Laughton and Stephen Roberts/Wynne Gibson segments, the latter as a prostitute who celebrates her freedom by sleeping in luxury and alone – making no secret of the girl's profession, who's later seen in her underwear and even removing her stockings, was only possible due to the relaxed censorship of the Pre-Code era) as well as repetitive (the immediate reaction of both Laughton and Charlie Ruggles, in a Norman Z. McLeod-directed episode where the star is typically flanked by the overbearing Mary Boland and which even incorporates a surreal nightmare sequence, on receiving the inheritance is to avenge themselves on their respective bosses). For that matter, Fields' segment (also helmed by McLeod) deals likewise with the sweet taste of revenge – as he and frequent sparring partner Alison Skipworth buy a number of cars simultaneously, after their brand-new vehicle has been destroyed by road-hogs, and spend the rest of the day giving irresponsible drivers they meet along the way a dose of their own medicine – but it's easily the highlight of the film.

The other episodes include: a prisoner on Death Row, Gene Raymond (directed by James Cruze), whose fortune arrives too late to change his fate; in a somewhat similar situation, the H. Bruce Humberstone-helmed segment has George Raft as a forger who, wanted by the Police, is understandably not given credit by any of his shady associates, even when he presents them with the $1 million figure – it does gain him lodging at a flop-house except that the owner, recognizing the forger from his photo in the papers, instantly turns Raft over to the proper authorities and obliviously uses the cheque to light his cigar! Again, a variation on this misuse of the money is the basis of the Gary Cooper episode (directed by William A. Seiter): he's one of three marines thrown in the stockade for unruly behavior – receiving Bennett's cheque on an April Fool's Day, he believes it all to be a mere prank, and uses it to buy himself and his pals a meal at a hamburger stand; after they all go out with the waitress there to a carnival and end up in another brawl, they're astonished the next day to see the girl and her employer living it up!

The concluding May Robson/Stephen Roberts segment – residing at a home for old ladies run by a female disciplinarian, she eventually utilizes the money to buy off the property and turn it into a recreation center (to which, ultimately, Bennett himself apparently retires!) – is among the longer episodes but also, obviously, the most sentimental. Norman Taurog, then, presumably directed the millionaire's scenes in his home and offices i.e. whenever he's not interacting with the other stars; it's unclear, however, what exactly constitutes Mendes' uncredited contribution. Unfortunately, the copy I acquired of this was rather fuzzy (after having longed for years to watch it); for what it's worth, the film is only currently available on R2 DVD, as part of a W.C. Fields collection: I didn't spring for the 10-Disc set for the simple reason that I already owned many of the titles included therein – though I'm still missing a few at this point…
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vignettes that show the effect of a million dollars on the common man
blanche-213 January 2010
When I saw the title "If I Had A Million," I remembered a sequence about a nursing home, and sure enough, it was from this 1932 film. "If I Had a Million" is a collection of stories by different writers showing the effects of a multimillionaire, John Gidden (Richard Bennett) giving away his fortune, a million at a time, to people he chooses from the phone book. It's the basis of the TV series prominent during my childhood, "The Millionaire" - the alternate title of "The Millionaire" is "If You Had a Million." The stories vary from funny to ironic to poignant. Directors include Ernst Lubitsch, Norman MacLeod, William Seiter, Norman Taurog, and others; writers include Claude Binyon, Lubitsch, Joseph Mankiewicz, Whitney Bolton, etc.

The stories are all excellent: An episode with a very modern sensibility starring George Raft as a forger; Gene Raymond as a death row inmate; Gary Cooper as a marine; Charles Laughton as a downtrodden clerk; Charles Ruggles as a clumsy salesperson in a china shop; Wynne Gibson as a prostitute in a segment that's definitely precode; and two total gems, W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth as a couple with a new car; and May Robson as a woman in a strict nursing home.

My favorite is the nursing home segment. May Robson's acting is superb as an elderly woman living with a bunch of other miserable elderly women in a nursing home. It's not a cruel place, but the woman feel restricted, and all miss their families. The faces of these women are magnificent, and this episode really tugs at the heartstrings. Robson gets the million, and what she does with it is fabulous.

Another favorite is the marine segment with a young, gorgeous Gary Cooper along with Roscoe Karns in a very funny episode. Cooper gets the million, and he doubts the check is real. A short but sweet one.

The mood of each story is different; each is worth seeing. Highly entertaining.
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A great little gem!
MartinHafer6 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Wow, is this a terrific old film. I've enjoyed it so much that I've seen it several times and it really has withstood the test of time.

The film is made up of many short films all linked together with an overarching plot. Each segment has its own director and the film is absolutely chock full of talent--making it one of the most star-studded films of the era.

The film begins in the mansion of a sick old multimillionaire. As he's lying there supposedly about to die, the house if full of sycophantic relatives all hoping to get a piece of the pie when he dies. However, the old codger will have none of it and gets the idea of giving away his fortune to total strangers--giving each a check for $1,000,000.

Some of the segments are ironic or sad (such as the guy on death row) but most are humorous. My favorites (and they all are good) include W.C. Fields and his wife as they deal with "road hogs", Charles Lawton in a terrifically understated short as well as Charlie Ruggles as the put upon man working in a china shop. However, THE best one is the last one that involves an old folks home where fun and excitement are strictly forbidden.

This film nearly earns a 10 due to exceptional writing, direction and cast. It's a joy to watch from start to finish and is a film that deserves to be seen again.
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Slightly uneven but frequently wonderful
gridoon20183 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A surprisingly fresh 1932 multi-part comedy-drama; many of the issues it deals with (poverty, faceless mass production, the sadness of old age, even reckless driving!) remain contemporary to this day, nearly 80 years later. My two favorite segments are those with Charles Laughton (in one of his first roles) and Wynne Gibson (whom we actually see in all her lingeried, tattooed glory!): they are short and to the point, sheer perfection. The closing episode, set at a resting home for elderly women, is touching and unusual; the one with the bank forger who can't cash his check is nicely ironic; the one with W. C. Fields and Alison Skipworth features some great car stunts. The weakest - and most overextended - story is the one with the three soldiers who let the check slip through their fingers, but hey, 7 out of 8 hits is still a great score. And mine is *** out of 4.
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What would YOU do?
Wizard-818 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I wanted to see this movie for a couple of decades after I first heard about it, but none of the TV stations in my area ever aired it, and (despite its cult) it has never been released on video or DVD. Thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies, which aired this recently.

Was it worth the wait? Yes it was. Certainly, the movie isn't perfect - there are several episodes that seem a bit too close to their themes. Two segments concern criminals who can't cash their checks, and there are two segments about cowed individuals who get revenge against their bosses once they get their checks. But there's a lot more positive to say about the movie. ALL the episodes are entertaining, the best being the W. C. Fields episode (hilarious even though you'll think of modern day and deadly road rage while watching it.) And enough of the segments concern people getting what they have desired to get for a long time - you'll really relate to them.

Come on, Universal, release this on DVD!
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What fun!
mukava9914 January 2010
This box of Paramount chocolates contains a couple of duds but enough tasty morsels to justify consumption. The episodes are housed in a raucous, funny framing story starring the one and only Richard Bennett as a cantankerous millionaire who decides to give his fortune away to total strangers rather than leave it to the greedy pack of family vultures lurking around his death bed. We are presented with several outcomes of the bestowal of sudden unearned wealth: fulfillment of revenge fantasies, degrees of self-indulgence, and even two unfortunate cases where character flaws or plain old uncooperative fate prevent the recipient from enjoying the miraculous bounty offered.

The best segment, combining high comedy with deep drama, stars the incomparable May Robson as a sad denizen of an old ladies' home who turns the tables on management when her ship comes in. Another geriatric entry stars Alison Skipworth as a tea shoppe proprietress (and former vaudeville performer) and her male companion (WC Fields) who avenge themselves on every roadhog they can find after one such menace totals their new car. Although much of this little adventure is given to repeated car crashes, the performances of the leads lift it from common slapstick.

Second runners up: A sweet tale about a mild-mannered, henpecked clerk in a china shop (Charles Ruggles, in the kind of role one would normally associate with WC Fields) whose money provides the opportunity for messy and satisfying revenge on his boss; Mary Boland is on hand as his chatterbox wife. Equally good is Charles Laughton in a very short segment about how a clerk reacts to the arrival of a check in the mail—simple, beautiful, stately and very obviously directed by Ernst Lubitsch. One notch down from these are segments with George Raft as a desperate forger who can't cash his check because he's wanted by the law; Wynne Gibson as a prostitute who treats herself to a luxury hotel room as reward for having suffered a life of degradation. At the bottom: a uncomfortable bit with Gene Raymond as a death row prisoner; a rather strained segment with Gary Cooper, Roscoe Karns and Jack Oakie as three disobedient Marines who think their check is a practical joke.
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The ultimate episodic film.......
duguidb21 March 2001
This is the ultimate episodic film, full of Paramount's biggest stars at the time including Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Charlie Ruggles and George Raft. Each star is featured in short one or two reelers based on the theme-What would happen if a tycoon gave a million dollars to a random person in the phone book? The results are funny, poignant, sad, and all are interesting. The comic segments include a memorable one (very short and to the point) by Laughton, and one by W.C. Fields which helped to resurrect his movie career.

The shame of it is that Universal Pictures Video has this movie and thousands others of Fields and other comedies and features locked in a vault and never released for video. One wonders why they are keeping secret all of these films that they could be making money on as a retail item. It is interesting to note that W.C. Fields basically began his premium sound career with his short bit from this film, and ended it in 1942 in another episodic film (recently restored to include him), "Tales of Manhattan" by Fox Video. At least Fox knows the value of bringing an old chestnut like that one to the market. If we are lucky, maybe someone at Universal will wise up and release "If I Had A Million", too.
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Know where I can find it?
srushton11 May 2003
I love this movie. I saw it once 26 years ago. Now I run a classic movie series in my community, and I'd love to find a 16mm print of the feature so I can show it. All I've been able to find is the W.C. Fields sequence, but I want the whole thing. Anyone have any ideas? Please e-mail me!

I remember finding the sequence of the prostitute receiving the money to be haunting and poignant: she goes to bed, sees she has TWO pillows on the bed, and gets rid of one. No way will she ever sleep with anyone she doesn't want to sleep with!
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A little known masterpiece
zetes7 June 2001
While the concept may not be unknown today (and it probably wasn't unknown even in its day: a man randomly hands out $1 million checks), If I Had a Million is one of the very best films of the 1930s. Why? The writing and acting are tiers above an average movie. Not one of the stories failed. They range from hilarious (W.C. Fields getting revenge on road hogs) to very poignant (the sad old women in the convalescent home). I cried more than once. I laughed as often.

Yet...I missed about 15 minutes, probably one story and a conclusion. The convalescent home was the last part I saw. My tape cut out at what I expect to be the end of it. Can anyone tell me what happens afterwards? I would love to own this masterpiece, but it is of yet unavailable on VHS or DVD. Let us pray for release and recognition.
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Fascinating Depression era movie
Paularoc11 August 2013
This episodic movie has something for everyone - humor, hope, pathos. It also has a stellar cast, a who's who of Paramount actors of the early 30s. It has a simple storyline of a millionaire who thinks he's dying and since he dislikes (quite rightly) all of his relatives and colleagues decides to give a million dollars to strangers selected out of the phone book. The movie was clearly the inspiration for the later very popular and, by me, fondly remembered Millionaire television series. In addition to its cast, the movie's strength is its variety. All of the episodes are good but the episode with the most impact is the Wynne Gibson one where she plays the weary prostitute who first uses part of her windfall by getting the best room in a fancy hotel where she can spend the night alone. Very powerful episode. The episode with the always wonderful May Robson is both sad and inspiring. And the movie has the comedy vignettes with Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland, W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth, and Charles Laughton. A superior film worth watching and re-watching.
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Two Leers
tedg3 November 2005
The thirties had more experiments in exploring genres than any other time. One of those was the episode genre. It has become only a curiosity in later years because a great many films (and most comedies) are just a series of episodes loosely connected.

In this case, the connection is a millionaire who gives money to strangers. The idea was repeated in "Easy Money," to better overall effect. And it got the full dramatic treatment in the long running TeeVee show of the fifties named "The Millionaire."

I can recommend this for only two reasons. The first is a comic episode starring W C Fields and car crashes. I think his humor is pretty intelligent because it is so vocal. Oh, he does cinematic things, but it is all wrapped around vocal nuance. Fields and his "wife" here were doing another movie together and hopped over here it seems.

The second reason to watch this is Mankiewicz. If you are interested in movies, you must be interested in how they became to be what they are. And that means following the great writers: Sturgis, the Mankiewicz brothers, and others.

He seems to have had a hand in a few of these episodes, but the one that is most clearly his is one in which a floozie, Violet Smith, gets her million. It is very short with three tiny acts. She gets the money and has ordinary reactions. She is approached by an oafish sailor for sex. He has one of the most disturbing faces I recall this short of Italian movies. She cozies to him by instinct, so warm and natural that it seems a better act than the actress we have seem so far. Then she realizes she doesn't have to have sex with this guy to survive. It is a simple turn, but done well. And she isn't even credited!

The final act is the piece worth watching, though. terrific writing. It is simple. She checks into a fine hotel and gets the finest room. The scene is all about the bed, getting into bed alone, with fine, clean sheets on her. The whole point is that she is alone, with no sexual attentions. At peace.

The scene consists of her reveling in her privacy. She takes most of her clothes off so she can feel the sheets. The whole scene takes no more than two minutes. She turns off the light and pulls the sheets over her. Wait! Something is wrong. Light on, sheets off. She realizes she doesn't have to wear her stockings to bed. Now this is great writing folks. She takes them off so can be "off duty" and enjoy the sheets.

Now the kicker. All this time we have been invading her space, watching. Leering.

Mankiewicz surely understood women in a deep way. I wish we had someone like him today. Garcia perhaps?

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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What happens to ordinary people who come into a LOT of money
patriots19 February 1999
This was the brainchild that launched TV's "The Millionaire," about 25 years later. A dying multi-millionaire can't stand the thought of leaving his fortune to his despised relatives. He decides to give the fortune away, a million dollars at a time, to strangers chosen from the phone book. There are a series of vignettes tied together by the reception of the million dollar check. It is a story of, "just desserts," and its all star cast is perfect in every scene. A must see! I wish they'd release this on video, so I could get a copy.
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Trivia--Jay Ward inspiration?
dionb2326 June 2001
In the first segment of this film, a meek clerk named Peabody answers to an imperious boss named Bullwinkle. Though the personalities of the characters bearing these names possess bear no resemblance to the characters of the same names in Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons of the '60s, the possibility of coincidence seems slim.
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