Film review: Million Dollar Legs (1932)

President: Hello sweetheart.

Migg Tweeny: Listen, my names Tweeny.

The President: You’ll always be sweetheart to me.

Migg Tweeny: I know, I know, but there’s talk already.

Million dollar legs is a mad vehicle for W.C. Fields directed by Edward F. Cline, that can compete with A Busy Day for pure silliness, and makes just about all other wacky comedies, before or since, look rather disciplined and conventional (including most Marx Brothers and other Fields pictures). It concerns the president of Klopstokia’s (Fields) attempts to get his country out of debt by entering some of the citizens (all remarkable athletes) into the 1932 Olympic games to procure a cash reward, with the help of a visiting brush salesman (Jack Oakie) who has eyes for his daughter (Susan Fleming). All the while, a dissenting cabinet (which includes the always-beautiful Vernon Dent), only kept in line by the physical domination of the president, plan to take over by any means necessary; even if it requires using ‘the woman no man can resist’ (Lyda Roberti in a bizarre performance, her exaggerated gyrations reminiscent of Olive Oyl’s attempts at seduction) to destroy the morale of Klopstokia’s athletes. There are also “spies everywhere” (at least one played by the cross-eyed silent movie star Ben Turpin).

This Depression-era romp is so knowingly nonsensical, it’s difficult to form an opinion as to its quality. It’s just so different. There’s fast-forwarding, pausing, rewinding, abrupt ends to scenes, goats and nuts, goats and nuts, and…goats and nuts. The highlight of the film is probably the Major-Domo’s attempts to deliver a message in a goat suit to Migg Tweeny and Angela, using his super speed. Yes, a goat suit. I enjoy and admire it a great deal, but I can’t say it was quite as consistently pleasurable as a good Marx Brother’s vehicle, or some of Field’s other films (The Bank Dick, It’s a Gift, etc).

It must be an art-film precisely because it is such a purely creative experiment in artlessness. It’s one of the closest things I’ve seen to The Goon Show on the screen (including all attempts by the Goons, Python, etc). I don’t think major studios today would be bold enough to risk a comedy that is this inventive; with a David Lynchesque art film probably as close as you get, but even they are not quite so cavalier as to take any and all liberties with the technology available. This is the type of original venture that represents the ‘old Hollywood’ that could do with a comeback.


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