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In the 1941 film Million Dollar Baby wealthy Cornelia Wheelwright (May Robson) is shocked when she finds out that her large inheritance was the result of her father having defrauded his former business partner, Fortune McAllister. Determined to make things right, Cornelia seeks out McAllister's only living relative, Pam (Priscilla Lane), and plans to give her a million dollars. Before she does, however, Cornelia wants to see what kind of a person Pam is. Taking a room in her boarding house under an assumed name, Cornelia gets to know the charming Pam. Soon Cornelia is embroiled in Pam's love life too, as Pam tries to decide between her struggling musician boyfriend Peter (Ronald Reagan) and Cornelia's successful lawyer friend Jim (Jeffrey Lynn).
Ronald Reagan returned to his home studio Warner Bros. to make Million Dollar Baby after being loaned out to MGM for his previous film, The Bad Man (1941). According to his 1965 autobiography Where's the Rest of Me?, Reagan enjoyed making Million Dollar Baby, especially working with Priscilla Lane and May Robson. The most challenging part of his role as a classical pianist, he recounts, was learning how to believably mimic the moves of a real piano player. "For two weeks I went to the music department every day and spent hours at a dummy piano, following the hand movements of a pianist at a real piano playing Chopin, and all the music the picture called for," he says. "A lot of acting is imitation anyway, and I became pretty good as long as the piano remained silent. For a while there I almost convinced myself I could play."
Million Dollar Baby is a formulaic but pleasant romantic comedy which showcases the young Ronald Reagan in one of his more appealing performances and also provides a delightful character part for May Robson.
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Screenplay: Casey Robinson, Richard Macaulay, Jerry Wald; Leonard Spigelgass (story "Miss Wheelwright Discovers America")
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Art Direction: Robert Haas
Music: Frederick Hollander
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr
Cast: Priscilla Lane (Pamela 'Pam' McAllister), Jeffrey Lynn (James 'Jim'/ 'Jimmy' Amory), Ronald Reagan (Peter 'Pete' Rowan), May Robson (Cornelia Wheelwright aka Miss White), Lee Patrick (Josie 'Lou' La Rue), Helen Westley (Mrs. Galloway, Landlady).
BW-101m. Closed Captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume