Million Dollar Legs is, production-wise, about a year early. It came out in 1932. A year later, another comedy about a goofy European nation, also from Paramount (from the same producer), came out. Duck Soup was a bomb at the time and appreciated later. Million Dollar Legs has a great reputation–apparently did so at the time too; I really can’t understand it.
The film appears to be from the awkward silent-to-sound transition period, but it’s kind of late. There are the title cards, which are supposed to be funny and are not. There’s the lack of an original score, which really hurts it. The lead actors, Jack Oakie and Susan Fleming, are both poor. So poor, I figured they were silent stars who just couldn’t vocally emote, but the years don’t match (at least not for Fleming, but the majority of Oakie’s career was in sound pictures). W.C. Fields does a little bit better, but not much. The script’s just way too stupid.
Even discounting the script’s brevity–Oakie and Fleming fall in love at first sight just to establish them as a couple, instead of having to bother with any character development–the joke’s are just stupid. They’re also sexist and racist. There’s a lot of examples of such humor at the time, but here it’s mean-spirited, instead of just ignorant. But the jokes being unfunny due to intent isn’t even the extent (hey, I rhymed).
No, a major comedic moment relies on the humor of a kid driving a locomotive. Another one is all about arm wrestling. Or the guy who can’t stop sneezing. Or Fields referring to Oakie as “Sweetheart” for the whole thing.
Legs‘s script is a mess–for the first three quarters there’s a cross-eyed spy (get it, he’s cross-eyed, funny, right?) who’s just around. It’s a sight gag, repeated over and over. In a silent, it would probably work. Here it just gets repetitive.
But the movie’s not all bad. It’s mostly bad and then the end comes around and just gets lazy.
Cline’s a bad director, both in terms of composition and how he directs the actors. There’s an absolute lack of scope here (possibly budgetary), but the budget doesn’t account for why Cline’s scenes with actors don’t work. Something about the composition, the actors’ positions, make the whole thing fall flat.
I almost forgot to mention Lyda Roberti. I spent a lot of Million Dollar Legs wishing it was silent. At those times, I was thinking how much better the film would be. When Roberti’s on screen, however, I just figured without hearing her “act,” her performance would only be half as bad… which would still be appalling.
Directed by Edward F. Cline; screenplay by Nicholas T. Brown and Henry Myers, based on a story by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; director of photography, Arthur L. Todd; music by Rudolph G. Kopp and John Leipold; produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Jack Oakie (Migg Tweeny), W.C. Fields (The President), Andy Clyde (The Major-Domo), Lyda Roberti (Mata Machree), Susan Fleming (Angela), Ben Turpin (Mysterious Man), Hugh Herbert (Secretary of the Treasury), George Barbier (Mr. Baldwin) and Dickie Moore (Willie).