|Adjusting for inflation, this would be The $13.2 Million Kid today.|
The flick: Million Dollar Kid (Monogram Pictures, 1944) [buy the set]
Current IMDb rating: 7.1
Director: Wallace Fox (Smart Alecks)
|Character man Robert Grieg|
Other actors of note: Noah Beery, Sr. (Clancy Street Boys), Iris Adrian (The Stork Club, I'm from Arkansas), Herbert Heyes (Miracle on 34th Street, The Ten Commandments), Robert Grieg (Hollywood and Vine; the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers; Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story, Unfaithfully Yours, Sullivan's Travels, and The Lady Eve), Johnny Duncan (Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, Kubrick's Spartacus), Mary Gordon (James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man), Patsy Moran (a Monogram stock player; worked on TV and in films with Lucille Ball, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, and more), Stan Brown (Only Angels Have Wings, You Can't Take It With You), Al Stone (nothing else; this was his first and last movie), Louise Curry (Citizen Kane, The Reluctant Dragon)
|Funny lady Iris Adrian|
At the police station, Courtland exonerates the Kids and invites them to his home to use his elaborate gymnasium. The Kids get along surprisingly well with Courtland, but they soon notice that not all is well with the rich man's children. His older son is away, flying for Uncle Sam in WWII. His lovely daughter Louise (Curry) is engaged to charming conman Andre (Brown) who claims to be a French military officer but is actually an American phony whose "uniform" came from a costume shop. After tailing him, Muggs and Glimpy discover that Andre is two-timing Louise with a floozy nightclub singer named Mazie Dunbar (Adrian).
This little conundrum is pretty easily (and cleverly) solved when Muggs brings the outraged Mazie to Andre and Louise's engagement party, but there's a more serious issue with Courtland's younger son, Roy (Duncan). You see, Roy is part of the gang of muggers that's been terrorizing the neighborhood -- not because he needs money, but just because he's bored and looking for kicks. When the Kids learn that Courtland's older son has been tragically shot down in combat overseas, they do everything they can to bring the real muggers to justice without incriminating Roy so that nice Mr. Courtland won't lose both of his sons. Things get complicated, though, when the crooks kidnap one of the Kids, Skinny (Benedict).
|Perry juxtaposes silly and serious.|
As Danny Peary points out in his book Cult Movie Stars, the Dead End/East Side movies are liberal sermons at heart. The point is that uneducated, lower-class youths are not inherently bad; they just need kindly benefactors, including policemen and wealthy philanthropists, to set them on the right path. His level of moral turpitude varies from film to film, but Leo Gorcey is usually a goody-two-shoes in these movies, despite his tough talk. Huntz Hall is weak-willed and therefore more fallible. He always ends up doing the right thing, but it's because Gorcey slaps him around if he doesn't.
The writers and directors at Monogram had apparently stopped trying to give any of the other Kids individual personalities by 1944. Other than Muggs and Glimpy, the other gang members are interchangeable. Obviously, Monogram was trying to switch things up a little by bringing in the new character Herbie, who manages to be even dumber than Glimpy. But just as obviously, that little experiment didn't work and the character (and the actor) disappeared forever. Frankly, though, all this is moot.
When Mr. Courtland gets that most-dreaded telegram from the War Department, Million Dollar Kid stops being a goofball comedy, and no amount of pratfalls or malapropisms can bring it back. Oh, and I couldn't help but notice that this movie yet again took the East Side Kids out of their natural environment. In this case, Muggs and the boys spend virtually all their time at the ritzy home of the Courtlands. I felt really badly for the butler (Grieg) who gets fired for being slightly snooty to the rude, destructive Kids. The movie forgets about this character, and I shudder to think what must have happened to him after losing his job. Damn those East Side Kids!
|Leo and Bernard Gorcey|
For me, the funniest moment of the movie is when Stan Brown tries to keep his pathetic charade going after the jig is clearly up. There was some real potential with these characters, but they don't get enough screen time. "New guy" Herbie, on the other hand, gets way too much screen time. While all of the East Side Kids are overaged to one degree or another, Al Stone looks like a middle-aged man. Muggs cracks wise about this very topic, but that only makes the situation worse by calling attention to it.
For these reasons and more, Million Dollar Kid just didn't do it for me. Leo Gorcey does have a funny little scene with his dad, Bernard, who looks like a shrunken, older version of his son. However, Bernard plays a delivery man who arrives at the Courtland house to bring the fateful telegram. Therefore, it's monstrously inappropriate to have these two engage in vaudeville-type banter at this point in the movie. What could the makers of this film have been thinking?
My grade: C
P.S. - Scruno had dropped out of the East Side Kids by this point -- Ernest Morrison fought for real in WWII, then got out of acting altogether -- but Million Dollar Kid still manages to sneak in a little bit of old-timey racism when Muggs makes a crack about "Ubangis" and Glimpy responds by grabbing his lips and stretching them out. This is a reference to a cultural misnomer about Ubangi tribeswomen wearing lip plates. Hey, folks, don't blame me. I didn't write these movies.