Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Millions to One

If you feel like you've heard of Brewster's Millions, you'e probably thinking of Richard Pryor's 1985 version. But there are 5 or 6 versions of this story, and I'm talking about the 1945 version, starring Dennis O'Keefe, directed by Alan Dwan (Escape to Burma).

The story is always the same: a poor schmo, Brewster, inherits a fortune with a stipulation: He has to spend an enormous amount, say $1 million, in a short time and wind up with nothing. If he succeeds, he inherits even more money, in this case, $8 million. The explanation for this odd codicil is that it would give him a distaste for spending money, but whatever. It's frankly a bald comic setup.

O'Keefe gets a good deal of comedy out of it. He is not allowed to tell anyone why he is doing this or to get married, so his girlfriend, Helen Walker, is pretty confused by the way he acts. He gets mixed up with party girls (Gail Patrick), crooked bankers (Thurston Hall) and show biz people (June Havok and Mischa Auer, one of our faves), who he figures will burn through his fortune pretty fast.

His old friends, of course, try to stop him from losing all his money. They try to convince him not to bet on slow racehorses (who, of course, win him big money) and so forth. His crooked pals react to his spendthrift ways by reforming and repaying him. And so on.

The "so on" is a bit of a problem, though. I don't think they ever quite settle on a theme, beyond the basic gag. Is the idea that, when you win by losing money, you can't manage to lose money? Is the idea that exposing crooks to generosity reforms them, or is it that when you want them to rob you, they just won't?

Mostly things move too fast to bother with themes or consistency. But I think it makes the difference between a fun movie and a great one. This is definitely fun.

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