Monday, January 21, 2008

Million Dollar Legs (1932)

“If you laid all the athletes in this country end to end, they’d stretch 480 miles.”

“How do you know?”

“We did it once.”

The country is Klopstockia, were all the men are named George and all the women are named Angela. All Klopstockians are also splendid super athletes, and when the country is looking to emerge from heavy debt, traveling brush salesman Migg Tweeney (Jack Oakie) convinces the President of Klopstockia (W.C. Fields) to enter his country in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles to show the world the supreme athletic abilities of the Klopstockian people.

The country is in disarray, not too surprising when President Fields’ cabinet meetings include arm wrestling matches with his cabinet members (played by such familiar faces as Hugh Herbert, Billy Gilbert, Irving Bacon and frequent Three Stooges foil Vernon Dent). Fields also practices weight lifting by hoisting his Major Domo (silent film comedian Andy Clyde) over his head as warming up exercises.

The movie is “Million Dollar Legs” (1932) and watching it may put you in mind of the Marx Brothers classic “Duck Soup.” (1933). Both involve mythical European countries and contain satirical jabs at government stupidity. Both are also highly surreal in the way a lot of early 1930s comedies are. The film’s leading lady Angela (of course) is played by starlet Susan Fleming, who later became Mrs. Harpo Marx, another “Duck Soup” connection.

“Million Dollar Legs” was out of circulation for many years until its issue years ago on VHS. (It has yet to earn a DVD release). I think its lack of availability kept it from being more celebrated. If you like “Duck Soup” you’d probably also like “Million Dollar Legs”.

Like Duck Soup’s lady spy Vera Marcal, “Million Dollar Legs” has a woman spy also, Mata Machree (Lyda Roberti), known as “The Woman No Man Can Resist.” She’s hired by the Klopstockian cabinet to distract the Olympics team so the country won’t win any medals, forcing President Fields’ resignation and the country’s take over by the cabinet. Watching over all this and taking copious notes, while popping up in the oddest places, like a painting on the wall, is a spy played by cross-eyed silent film comedian Ben Turpin.

This is a very funny film, and well worth an investment of its 61-minute running time. There’s a lot of classic comedy on display here, especially the athletic abilities of Klopstockia. Even though Klopstockia is thwarted at every turn, they manage to arrive at the Olympics. President Fields even takes part in the weight lifting competition (wearing a top hat). Against Fields, Mata Machree didn’t stand a chance.

Rating for “Million Dollar Legs”: Three and a half stars.


Dees Stribling said...

I have to see that. After I watch International House.

r.j. said...

Teddy Hart, who was the actor/brother of Larry Hart, never stopped talking about the fact that I remembered him in this --he played I think, The Sec of the Navy --something like that. Teddy thought I was some sort of "whiz child" for knowing that -- to me it was no big deal. "Million Dollar Legs" was a staple of late-night television here in L.A., in those days.