Friday, June 18, 2010

Underrated Movie #77: Million Dollar Legs

Title: Million Dollar Legs
Year: 1932
Director: Edward F. Cline
Writers: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (!) and Henry Myers
Stars: W. C. Fields, Jack Oakie, Susan Fleming, Andy Clyde

The Story: Fields has retained the presidency of a treacherous little country called Klopstockia thanks to his arm-wrestling prowess, but now his enemies are going to take it all away. Luckily, an American brush salesman who wants to marry his daughter has a plan to save the country: win all the medals in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics!

How it Came to be Underrated: W. C. Fields’s movies, most of which are from the early sound era, have been in terrible shape for a while, which hurts his chances of finding new audiences. This one has never been on available an American DVD.

Why It’s Great:

  1. I recently discovered this one thanks to a wonderful screening held by friend of the blog Elliott Kalan here in NYC, with guest appearances by John Oliver and W. C. Fields’s granddaughter. If you were lucky enough to be there, there’s little I can say here that they didn’t cover in their hilarious discussion. According to my stats, I get readers from all over the world here, but I recommend that you all somehow make it New York for Elliott’s next screening on July 7th, Fritz Lang’s Human Desire, which is another not-on-DVD gem.
  2. The tagline on the poster says it all: “It’s insane – It’s joyous!” and the story couldn’t be crazier, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hold together, in its own odd way. There’s actualy a lot of “set-up and pay-off”. Each one of the special skills that they wind up needing in the Olympics has been established beforehand in a fairly organic way, as far as anything can be said to organic is utterly absurd movie.
  3. Susan Fleming is famous today for her long marriage to Harpo Marx, but it turns out that she a talented comedienne as well. She gets big laughs by being absurdly deadpan. Here she tells her American suitor that she wants him to sing her an old Klopstockian love song. “It’s an old family copy.” “Tell me, what’s it printed on?” “My grandfather.” Now that’s pre-code comedy!
  4. Why don’t comedies have angry little deep-voiced kids in them anymore? They were still showing up as late as Monkey Business. It’s not too late to bring them back!

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: This would make a great triple-feature with two other movies featuring classic comedians in charge of their own small country: the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

How Available Is It?: It’s not available stateside, but at least there’s a Region 2 British DVD that’s well-restored.

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1 comment:

Erich Kuersten said...

You should add Wheeler and Whoolsey's DIPLOMANIACS to your list of similar / pre-code recommendations. I just saw it and it's like manna for fans of this film and DUCK SOUP...