W.C. Fields and Company in “If I Had a Million”

If-I-Had-a-Million-Lobby-Card

If I Had a Million (1932) was an all-star collection of stories told in discrete segments, each by a different director. The framing device (directed by Norman Taurog) is that dying millionaire (Richard Bennett) leaves his fortune to numerous complete strangers. The various segments concern what they do with their landfall and how their lives are changed.

The best known section of the film nowadays, called “Road Hogs”, directed by Norman McLeod, stars Fields and his then-frequent co-star Alison Skipworth as a couple of ex-vaudevillians who buy a whole bunch of automobiles and smash them up. It is on the basis of being part of the W.C. Fields canon that most  people recall the film today.

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The other stories include:

* “China Shop” (also directed by McLeod) features a timid clerk (Charlie Ruggles) who uses the opportunity to smash everything in the porcelain shop where he works

* “The Clerk” (directed by Ernst Lubitsch) stars Charles Laughton, with an almost identical arc to the “China Shop” one just described

* “Three Marines” (directed by William Seiter) casts Gary Cooper, Jack Oakie, and Roscoe Karns, as the titular three soldiers who foolishly sign over their dough to the cook at a lunch stand

* “Grandma” (directed by Stephen Roberts) stars May Robson as an old woman who stages a revolution at the nursing home where she lives

* In the raciest segment “Violet” (also directed by Roberts), a prostitute (Wynne Gibson) takes up residence in a ritzy hotel, where she luxuriates in the freedom of not having to sleep with a man for her board. (This was still the pre-code era).

* In “The Death Cell” (directed by James Cruze) a condemned man (Gene Raymond) gets the good news too late

* “The Forger” (directed by H. Bruce Humberstone) casts George Raft as a guy with a reputation for passing bad checks. Naturally with his reputation he can’t cash this one. Ultimately, it goes up in smoke.

To learn more about comedy film history, including the films of W.C. Fields, please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube

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