Cast & Crew
In 1925, bank president Maggie Warren is ecstatic that her son John is marrying Helen Praskins, the daughter of her friend and rival Lizzie Praskins, and turns the bank presidency over to him. Six years later, the Depression has made the banking business difficult, but Helen, John and their two children are still happy, Lizzie's constant meddling notwithstanding. Because she fears a general bank failure, Lizzie takes her money out of John's bank, and inadvertently creates a disturbance which other depositors interpret as a lack of confidence in his bank. When word spreads that Lizzie is withdrawing her money, it causes a run, even though she soon changes her mind and redeposits the cash so she won't be robbed. In a panic, John tries to get bonds back which he invested in a new building without his mother's knowledge, but Holland, the man who has invested them, won't return them. Maggie talks to her depositors, who promise to stick by her, but she has to sell everything just to keep them going for the six months that John says it will take to get their bonds back. Lizzie invites the entire family to live with her, and despite John's reluctance, Maggie agrees, but quickly turns into Lizzie's unpaid housekeeper. Unable to stand Lizzie's bossiness any longer, John leaves, but Helen refuses to go. Maggie soon joins her son at his rented room after a violent argument with Lizzie. Maggie then goes to work in Higgins' grocery store and encourages John, who is certain that the building will not be finished on time and their bonds will be forfeited. While Maggie convinces the townspeople to barter and trade instead of using cash, John forges a stop completion notice on the building to save his mother's bonds, but Holland and his associate Knapp have plans to keep the bonds for themselves and try to slow down the work. Maggie, however, gets the idea of putting all of the unemployed men in town to work on the building and paying them in trade, and the building is completed on time. As she is about to reopen the bank, however, she discovers that Holland has run off with the money. Then, when Maggie finds out about the forgery, she and John quarrel and he leaves town. Despondent, Maggie thinks that the only way out of ruining the bank's customers is to kill herself so that her $100,000 life insurance money can help save their deposits. Meanwhile, John finds Holland and Knapp and fights them to get the bonds back. He calls his mother to tell her, but she does not answer because she is about to shoot herself. He then calls Lizzie to ask her to give Maggie the message and Lizzie arrives just before Maggie uses the gun. Because Lizzie will not leave, Maggie decides to take ant poison instead, but, unknown to her, it is really "Prunolax," an elixir which Lizzie earlier had put in an ant poison bottle to prevent Maggie from wasting it. Lizzie thinks that Maggie really has taken poison though and they tearfully make up, after which John arrives with the good news. When Lizzie discovers exactly what Maggie has swallowed, she tells the story about the Prunolax to Maggie, who is happy to be alive. When the family talks about moving into a house with sixteen bedrooms and a marble bathroom, however, she is painfully reminded of something she must do first.
Dressler and Moran carved a niche for themselves as broad comediennes whose full figures and lived-in faces were perfectly suited for slapstick antics and over-the-top reactions. Both had developed their timing through years of stage work and separate periods as stars for film pioneer Mack Sennett. They initially teamed for Dressler's first MGM picture, The Callahans and the Murphys (1927), but their on-screen partnership didn't really take off until the sound era, when low-budget comedies such as Dangerous Females (1929), Reducing and Politics (both 1931), became big profit-makers for the studio.
Prosperity was the ninth film for the comic team (three time as many films as Dressler made with Wallace Beery, the co-star most often associated with her), but by 1932, Dressler's status at MGM had changed dramatically. With the surprise success of Min and Bill (1930), which brought her an Oscar® for Best Actress, Dressler had become the screen's top box-office star, a position she held until 1933. As a result, Prosperity was developed as a star vehicle for her. Although she and Moran shared several comic scenes to point up their characters' rivalry, Dressler also had more dramatic scenes as she tried to cope with the rigors of Depression life and her son's failure as president of the family bank.
The film received a great deal of attention from the MGM brass. It went into production in March 1932 with Leo McCarey directing from a script by Willard Mack and Zelda Sears, both of whom had worked on earlier Dressler and Moran films. Although McCarey was already a respected comedy director, having created the team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy during his days with producer Hal Roach, production head Irving G. Thalberg wasn't happy with his work on Prosperity. The production head demanded retakes and brought in more writers, Frank Butler, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and his sister Sylvia. When that still didn't work for him, he scrapped the entire film and started over, this time with Sam Wood directing.
Perhaps the delays in production account for Prosperity's strange political content. The re-tooled comedy was filmed in October 1932 as the nation was preparing for a major political upheaval that would put Roosevelt into the White House. When the failure of the family bank forces Dressler to take a job as a sales clerk, she initiates a barter system so Depression-strapped families can still buy necessary goods. To save her bank, she gets a building project back on line by putting the unemployed to work, months before Roosevelt's WPA did exactly the same thing. When the film went into release shortly after the election, MGM even capitalized on the political atmosphere with the tagline "Give America Prosperity Mr. Roosevelt. Hooray for the new president!"
Prosperity marked the end of the line for another MGM star, Anita Page, cast as Dressler's daughter-in-law. Page had risen quickly at MGM after teaming with Joan Crawford for a trio of timely romantic comedies, Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Our Modern Maidens (1929) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). She also had starred in the first MGM musical, The Broadway Melody (1929). By 1930, she was the studio's second most popular leading lady, receiving more fan mail than anybody except Greta Garbo. Then her career fell apart. In later years, she would claim Thalberg and studio head Louis B. Mayer had sabotaged her career after she refused to have affairs with them. She moved into secondary roles, including one as Dressler's daughter in Reducing. After Prosperity, she finished the first stage of her career with poverty row features, then retired to Coronado, California. In 1996, at the age of 86, she went back to work with supporting roles in low-budget films. She also appeared at a Motion Picture Academy screening of The Broadway Melody and received a standing ovation.
With Dressler in the starring role, Prosperity couldn't fail at the box office. For the film's premiere run in New York, the Capitol opened its box office at 9:30 a.m. to accommodate her many fans. The move was wise, as screenings sold out quickly. Dressler's box-office reign would continue for only three more pictures. Before production started on her next film, Tugboat Annie (1933), she learned that she had cancer, which claimed her life later that year. Without her most potent co-star, Moran fell into secondary roles, coming back for an acclaimed bit in Adam's Rib (1949) a few years before her death in 1952.
Producer-Director: Sam Wood
Screenplay: Zelda Sears, Eve Greene
Based on a story by Sylvia Thalberg, Frank Butler
Cinematography: Leonard Smith
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Score: William Axt
Cast: Marie Dressler (Maggie Warren), Polly Moran (Lizzie Praskins), Anita Page (Helen Praskins), Norman Foster (John Warren), John Miljan (Holland), Henry Armetta (Henry, a Barber), Edward Brophy (Ice Cream Salesman), Billy Gilbert (Driver).
by Frank Miller
A pre-production chart in Hollywood Filmograph credits Ralph Shugart with sound, however, Fred Morgan is credited after the film began production. According to news items in Film Daily and Hollywood Reporter, Leo McCarey was the film's director when production began in March 1932. A June 1932 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Willard Mack and Zelda Sears had worked on the film's first continuity and were brought back for retakes. Added to the script staff at that time were Sylvia Thalberg, Frank Butler, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Mack, Goodrich and Hackett were not included in the onscreen credits or in reviews and the extent of their participation in the completed script has not been determined. In October 1932, Hollywood Reporter noted that because "the front office" at M-G-M did not like portions of the film, "photographed some time ago," retakes were started, after which the studio decided to reshoot the entire picture with Sam Wood as the director. An ad for the film that appeared in Film Daily just after the 1932 presidential election included the slogan "Give America Prosperity Mr. Roosevelt, Hooray for our new president!"