Directed by: James Cruze, Ernst Lubitsch, Norman McLeod, Stephen Roberts, et al.
Starring: Richard Bennett, W.C. Fields, Alison Skipworth, Charlie Ruggles, Mary Boland, May Robson, Gary Cooper
If I Had a Million (1932) is one of the first and best portmanteau films—a collection of short films with various stars held together by a single premise. In this case, the anthology revolves around a supposedly dying multimillionaire industrialist John Glidden (Richard Bennett—father of Joan and Constance Bennett) who, disgusted by both his venal relatives and business associates, decides to have his estate give his money away—a million dollars at a time—to “strangers, people I never heard of.” Advised that the relatives would break any such will, he determines to live long enough to give the money away himself. The bulk of the film details the results of those windfalls. With eight directors and 17 credited writers, the results aren’t exactly uniform, but they work more often than not. Today, the film is mostly known for the instantly unforgettable—yet very brief and almost wordless—Ernst Lubitsch (the only big-gun director involved) segment with Charles Laughton, and the “Road Hog” section with W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth, but there are other sequences well worth noting—especially the moving final story, which cleverly ties in with the framing story. The sequence with Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland is also very good, while one with Wynne Gibson as a waterfront prostitute is delightfully pre-code. The unfortunate thing is that the biggest star at the time—Gary Cooper—gets easily the least impressive stretch of the movie, but it’s a small price to pay for the rest of the film.
The Asheville Film Society will screen If I Had a Million Tuesday, July 12, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the A.F.S.