If I Had a Million (1932)

Two Leers

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 humour 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 realises 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 revelling 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 realises 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?

posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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