W.C. Fields & Co. in “Million Dollar Legs”
Today is the anniversary of the release date of the all-star Paramount comedy Million Dollar Legs (1932), directed by Eddie Cline.
This…is one of my favorite movies. It’s one of many cray-cray comedies Herman Mankiewicz had a hand in in the early 30s. He wrote Wheeler and Woolsey’s Girl Crazy (1932) and Diplomaniacs (1933), wrote the story for Jack Pearl’s Meet the Baron (1933) and produced the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933), in addition to Million Dollar Legs. He ultimately became best known for co-writing the screenplay to Citizen Kane with Orson Welles. The script to Million Dollar Legs was co-written by his brother Joseph, writer of many a notable screenplay himself, including All About Eve (1950).
Must be a work of genius, right? As far as I’m concerned, it is!
The film stars W.C. Fields as the unnaturally strong President of the fictional European nation of Klopstokia. By unnaturally strong, I mean he mean he can lift massive amounts of weight like a superhero. Everyone in Klopstokia has some superhuman skill. His beautiful daughter (Fields always has a daughter in his movies) is played by Susan Fleming, who became Mrs. Harpo Marx four years later.
Klopstokia is a corrupt, divided and nearly bankrupt nation. Luckily one day a travelling brush salesman played by Jack Oakie comes to the capital and falls in love with the daughter. Realizing the potential of Fields athletic abilities (and those of every other Klopstokian) he hits on the perfect plan for getting them out of their financial difficulties — enter them in the Olympics! Unfortunately some are against this plan, and so they unleash the treacherous femme fatale Mata Machree (Lyda Roberti) an obvious play on Mata Hari, who makes all the athletes go literally weak in the knees. Also in the cast: Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Hank Mann, Heinie Conklin, Billy Gilbert, Vernon Dent, etc etc. It must have galled old Mack Sennett to see Paramount make this movie with all his stars even as his own company was going under.
Here’s a trailer created for a recent live showing:
For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etcFor more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.