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An episodic film with eight sequences united by a common plot device, If I Had a Million (1932) provided an elaborate showcase for some of Paramount's top acting talent including Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, George Raft, Jack Oakie, Charlie Ruggles, Frances Dee and rising comic star W.C. Fields. Overseen by master filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, the film also boasted such directors as James Cruze, Norman McLeod, William A. Seiter, Norman Taurog (who directed the Fields episode) and Lubitsch himself. The unifying plot element, in which a dying multimillionaire randomly picks a series of strangers to receive $1 million each, would provide the basis for the popular radio and television series The Millionaire.
The Fields episode, frequently cited as the favorite of the film's fans, casts the comic as Rollo La Rue, a down-and-out vaudeville juggler recalling Fields' own past as a juggling headliner. When Rollo's wife (Alison Skipworth) receives the $1 million check, the couple sets out on a mission to avenge the wrecking of their prized automobile by "roadhogs." They spend the money for a convoy of new cars and a group of tough chauffeurs, and then take to the streets in search of rude drivers whose vehicles they destroy by ramming into them! This was one of a series of Fields films in which his personal obsessions were incorporated into the script. In real life, he had a passion for automobiles and a loathing for other drivers especially those who inconvenienced him.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, later to become the Oscar-winning writer-director of A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950), wrote the screenplay for the Fields episode of If I Had a Million. The association between writer and star dated to Mankiewicz' teens, when he was introduced to Fields by his screenwriter brother Herman Mankiewicz, also to become an Oscar-winner, for Citizen Kane (1941). Fields agreed to an interview by young Joe for the newspaper of his Brooklyn high school, and was so impressed by the results that he sent a congratulatory note to the precocious teen.
After the filming of If I Had a Million, Fields sought out Joseph Mankiewicz to buy some of the comic material that had been written for his character notably the phrase "my little chickadee," which Rollo used in addressing his wife and which would become the title of a 1940 film costarring Fields and Mae West. Mankiewicz demurred, pointing out that Paramount was now the owner of the material. But Fields insisted, a gesture that Mankiewicz attributed to the "incredible punctiliousness about material that is one of the great attributes of the old-time vaudevillian." The payment was $50 cash.
Producers: Louis D. Lighton (uncredited), Benjamin Glazer (associate; uncredited)
Directors: James Cruze, H. Bruce Humberstone, Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Z. McLeod, Stephen Roberts, William A. Seiter, Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Robert Hardy Andrews, Robert Sparks, Grover Jones, William Slavens McNutt, Lawton Mackall, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Oliver H.P. Garrett, Harvey Gates, Claude Binyon, Malcolm Stuart Boylan, Whitney Bolton, John Bright, Sidney Buchman, Lester Cole, Isabel Dawn, Boyce DeGaw, Ernst Lubitsch, Walter DeLeon
Cinematography: Harry Fischbeck, Charles Edgar Schoenbaum, Gilbert Warrenton, Alvin Wyckoff
Film Editing: LeRoy Stone
Music: John Leipold
Cast: Gary Cooper (Steve Gallagher), Charles Laughton (Phineas V. Lambert), George Raft (Eddie Jackson), Jack Oakie (Private Mulligan), Richard Bennett (John Glidden), Charles Ruggles (Henry Peabody), Allison Skipworth (Emily La Rue), W. C. Fields (Rollo La Rue), Mary Boland (Mrs. Peabody), Roscoe Karns (Private O'Brien), May Robson (Mrs. Mary Walker).
by Roger Fristoe