Monday, January 25, 2010

DVD MIA: If I Had a Million

By decree of the boss man, movies/DVDs only count towards the great 2010 viewing tally contest if Gen X carries the film for rental. For my extracurricular viewing, I've created DVD MIA, a series covering movies not available on DVD in North America.

If I Had a Million. US, 1932. Directed by James Cruze, H. Bruce Humberstone, Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Z. McLeod, Stephen Roberts, William A. Seiter, Norman Taurog. Starring Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, George Raft, Jack Oakie, W.C. Fields, May Robson.

This is one of Paramount's early-talkie all-star affairs, with a wide selection of contracted directors and stars involved. The umbrella story involves a dying millionaire (Bruce Bennett) deciding to give away his fortune before he kicks off, rather than leaving to his lecherous colleagues and family members. He picks eight names at random from the L.A. phone directory, and gives each one million dollars. Each segment of the film details how that individual copes with their sudden richesse.

This kind of affair is usually pretty hit-and-miss, what with grand master filmmakers like Lubitsch handling one segment alongside one by journeyman Humberstone; huge Hollywood stars like Cooper contrasted with esteemed British thesp Laughton and vaudeville comics Fields and Oakie. The success rate in this one is surprisingly high, with many of them hitting sweet spots. The tone of the segments ranges from wishfulfillment comedy (Lubitsch, McLeod) to ironic humour (Seiter) to tragic (Cruze). In fact, for a film with such a screwball premise two of the segments have such depressing outcomes as to beggar belief. Roberts contributes one of the best segments: a poignant vignette about a skid row prostitute who spends her first night of wealth alone in a swank hotel, making a point to throw away the second pillow. He also contributes the worst, a retirement home tale that careens from sneering villainy to ridiculous utopianism.

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