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.