D: Edward F. Cline / 59m
Cast: Jack Oakie, W.C. Fields, Andy Clyde, Lyda Roberti, Susan Fleming, Hugh Herbert, Ben Turpin, George Barbier, Dickie Moore
In the country of Klopstokia, where the women are all called Angela and the men are all called George, brush salesman Migg Tweeny (Oakie) runs into a young woman (named Angela, naturally) and immediately the pair fall in love. Angela (Fleming) takes Migg to meet her father, who just happens to be the country’s president (Fields). The president is at odds with his cabinet. Led by the Secretary of the Treasury (Herbert), the cabinet is plotting to overthrow him as his policies – or lack of them – have resulted in Klopstokia teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. When Migg realises that many Klopstokians are natural athletes, he suggests the country takes part in the upcoming Olympic Games; if they win, they’ll also collect a large cash reward being offered by Migg’s boss (Barbier). The cabinet take steps to sabotage the president’s efforts and hire femme fatale Mata Machree (Roberti) to seduce the athletes (why isn’t she called Angela?). Only a last-minute intervention by Angela keeps the country’s Olympic dream alive, and it comes down to the last event, the weightlifting competition, to decide if Klopstokia will avoid financial ruin…
If you’re in any doubt as to what kind of comedy is being served up by Million Dollar Legs, then an opening caption should explain everything (as it does about Klopstokia): Chief Exports … Goats and Nuts. Chief Imports … Goats and Nuts. Chief Inhabitants … Goats and Nuts. Yes, we’re in a weird approximation of a European country where anything goes. There’s parody, slapstick, farce, and every other form of comedic license you can think of. There are visual gags galore, razor sharp one-liners, and all courtesy of a group of comedians whose own individual (and often contrasting) styles somehow come together to make the movie one of the most consistently funny releases Paramount ever produced. With a script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Henry Myers that was originally written for the Marx Brothers (who turned it down), Million Dollar Legs is so carefree and unconcerned with being disciplined that the viewer has no choice but to go along with it all. Scenes often exist just to be funny, and they bear no relation to anything that’s gone before, or will do in the future. It’s like watching a movie that has only a tenuous sense of story and plot, is more than aware of it, but just doesn’t feel it’s important.
There’s so much to take in and enjoy. Fields ditches his standard curmudgeonly persona and appears looser and more relaxed than usual; the result is a performance that sparkles with comic invention. He’s in good company, too. Oakie shines as the loveable lunkhead he always played so well, Clyde is restraint personified as the president’s major-domo (and fastest man on two legs), Herbert makes his character’s shifty and obsequious behaviour a constant source of amusement, and Turpin pops up unexpectedly here and there as a black cloaked spy with a notebook. Roberti is equally effective in a pastiche Marlene Dietrich role that sees her throw her hips around with the kind of wild abandon that could injure someone. Ostensibly in charge of everything, Cline has no option but to stand back and let his cast loose on the material. Anarchy and preposterousness ensue in equal measure, with side orders of silliness and absurdity. Paramount never made another movie even remotely as harebrained as this one, and though at first glance the Marx Brothers’ rejection of the script might imply that this won’t be as good as one of their own movies, nothing could be further from the truth.
Rating: 9/10 – hugely enjoyable, and with its experienced cast working in effortless fashion, Million Dollar Legs is the kind of movie that modern audiences would be tempted to overlook – and that would be a travesty; alive with comic possibilities and fizzing with imagination, this is hilarious, inspired stuff indeed, and packs more into its relatively short running time than some features manage over twice the length.
NOTE: The trailer below is for a special screening of the movie held in 2010.