Sunday, December 17, 2006

Million Dollar Legs

Million Dollar Legs(1932)
Directed by Edward F. Cline
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Henry Myers
Starring W.C. Fields, Jack Oakie, Susan Fleming, Lydia Roberti, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Hugh Herbert
IMDB Entry

These articles tend to skew toward newer films. It's always more difficult to see good old films that aren't well-known to film buffs.

Similarly, older films are hard to find, and become harder as more films are released.  Classics show up everywhere, but good films that have been overlooked are difficult to seek out.

I was bemoaning the fact that I didn't have any films from the 30s -- one of Hollywood's greatest eras -- when I rememberedMillion Dollar Legs.

The film was made to make a quick buck on a national event.  The 1932 Olympics were set for Los Angeles, and the film was put together to capitalize on Olympic fever (such as it was during the Depression).  W.C. Fields is the biggest name, though the star is Jack Oakie, who would be completely forgotten today if Chaplin hadn't given him a plum part in The Great Dictator

Oakie plays Migg Tweeny, a go-getting brush salesman who finds his way into the country of Klopstockia, ruled by Fields.  Klopstockia produces nothing but world-class athletes; Fields is president because no one can beat him in arm wrestling.  The country is bankrupt, so Tweeny convinces them to enter the Olympics to clean up in the gold medal department.  The plan is thrown a monkey wrench when the President's opponents hire Mata Machree, The Woman No Man Can Resist (played by Lydia Roberi) to derail the plans.

The film is hilarious.  Written by, among others, Joseph L. Mankiewitz and Ben Hecht, it's filled with Marx-Brothers-style silliness.  Oakie is a personality much like Harold Lloyd -- breezy and sure of himself.  He romances the president's daughter (Susan Fleming, who left films to marry Harpo Marx) and works to thwart Machree's plans.

Fields was just moving over to star in sound films (it's hard to believe that he was as successful as he was in the silents; Fields without mumbled asides is only a fraction of the man). This movie tends to be ignored when his work is considered.  Mostly that's because he's not the character we're used to -- except in flashes -- and his role takes the back seat to Oakie.  It may be Fields the person, but it's not Fields the movie character. 

Roberti is funny as the femme fatale, and a bunch of old silent comics show up among the Klopstockians.  The film rates up among the best comedies ever.

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