GIVING MILLIONSThe business of Hollywood reworking European hit movies isn’t new. Take 1940’s The Lady in Question with Rita Haworth and Brian Aherne doing Michele Morgan and Raimu in Gribouille, if you can get your head around that. This was different from the simultaneous versions of the early years of sound or even re-treads like Korda’s Rebel Son cannibalizing Granovski’s Taras Boulbe with Harry Baur in the same part so the footage would match.
A curious and revealing instance was Zanuck making a Fox version of Mario Camerini’s 1935 Darò un milione, goaded by a Variety review that said Hollywood should do it better.
The Italian film was a pleasant lightweight, part of a nice cycle of films the director made launching the star career of Vittorio de Sica. We know perilous little about Pre-WW2 Italian film but Camerini’s comedies and Blasetti’s dramas are represented as their best offerings.
In Darò un milione, millionaire De Sica tries throwing a life preserver from his millionaire’s yacht to drunken tramp Luigi Almirante in the water below. When that doesn't work he dives in to save the man who is drowning after failing to tie a rock to his own foot. Drying out on the Riviera beach, the jaded rich man confides that he’d give a million to anyone he was sure was not after his wealth. After sleeping it off under a tarpaulin, Almirante wakes to find Vittorio has taken his clothes and left banknotes to dry on the clothesline.
Following a meeting among flapping bed sheets, Vittorio, in his new tramp outfit, helps blonde Assia Norris (Camerini’s wife) look for the tumbling dog of which we could have seen more. They find themselves on the road in the middle of a stream of bicycle racers, an incident seen again with Enzo Staiola in De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclete.
Vittorio lets the animals out of the dog catcher’s van (cf. his Umberto D) earning Assia’s gratitude and getting him marched off to the local police station.
In the meantime, Almirante has gone to the Courier du Sud office, with his story about the millionaire, who wants to give away a million to someone who treats him well unknowingly - and demanding a Bismark herring meal. They fete him as the person who can identify the millionaire and put the story on the street and over the air.
Almirant’s high life doesn’t last, as he finds the obituaries editor in the publisher’s wife’s bed and gets taken for her lover by the newspaper people, who pursue him through the film - very Le Million. On the street, people alerted to the undercover millionaire, are treating the tramps with generosity and one seedy looking nobleman is indignant that they include him.
Meanwhile outside the Cirque Primerose tent, where Norris works, the spruiker is producing money and doves from under his white top hat and promising the crowd a hundred lire note will be given away at the night’s performance. Assia brings tramp Vittorio.
The owner’s fat wife is got up in the skimpy outfit to head the parade but gets kicked by a horse and Assia has to take her place (“Que vernonia”) with Vittorio protecting her as one of her float bearers. He goes to get the injured wife a cup of water from the shower between the two alligator tanks and gets drenched, while the owner calls out his as the winning number and the crowd turns ugly, because no one claims the bank note prize. Assia irons Vittorio’s wet clothes and the owner comes in to find Vittorio in her floral robe, assuming the worst.
She’s found his emerald ring and alibis she is just cultivating a rich man. Vittorio sees this - nice atmospheric silhouette shot - and is disenchanted, heading off. He smashes the plates and bottles in the ball-throwing stand on his way out, with the proprietor demanding he pay the cost and, scornful of his offer of a cheque. Vittorio has to be bailed out.
Almirante runs into him and is clued in. He is asked to identify the millionaire and singles out amazed Zoppeta (the father from Camerini’s even better Uonini che malanzoni). However Assia follows Vittorio, believing he’s really destitute, and modestly gives him ten lire to carry him over, persuading him that her heart is true. He rows her out to the yacht, gives her the ring and they set out for their voyage together.
He’s handed the dried out money to Almirante who, seeing the crowd again treating the poor men badly, buys them rides all night on the circus concessions, going out on a note of anarchic enjoyment.
Lively handling and another strong lead from De Sica, playing against the grotesques of the support, the film is a shade more realistically set than all those others with similar themes. It echoes Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, If I Had a Million, Le Million, Ils Etaient 9 Celibataires and Trading Places. The Camerini films also correct the notion that it was the post-war Neo Realists who introduced the problems of the poor and the use of real settings into movies.
There’s a suggestion that Fox got tired of their proposed version of Darò un milione, having bounced it around as a vehicle for its top stars - a Don Ameche Loretta Young version was proposed. On the other hand, after the Variety review the studio seems to have felt they were competing with the Italians and poured production values into their 1938 I’ll Give A Million - lots of circus and Riviera background action, every grotesque they could find for the support with Peter Lorre and John Carradine pouncing on their opportunities there, finally operating as a double act.
This time it’s Warner Baxter disillusioned by his encounter with Lynn Bari, after whom he named "Celeste", his luxury yacht. Friendless and devastated, Warner retrieves struggling drunken would-be suicide Lorre. Back on the beach, they dry out and Warner outlines his isolated predicament.
Next morning he sets out for Venice dressed in Lorre’s tramp outfit and leaving Lorre in his diner suit getting Peter arrested with Warner’s thousand franc notes bank roll. Lorre tells Frank Reicher’s gendarmes and editor J. Edward Bromberg’s reporter Luis Alberni about the millionaire. Nice cut to hobo Carradine walking down the street.
Meanwhile Warner has encountered the judo chimpanzee run away from Sig Ruman’s Circus Primrose who Ruman’s daughter, the winning Marjorie Weaver is trying to find. They go back to the circus where she takes pity on Warner and gets him a spot as night watchman in the menagerie - nicely edited scene of the caged circus animal’s reactions.
As in the original, the news of the errant millionaire has spread and everyone is taking in hoboes and feeding them. Lorre, as the one who can identify the rich man, is being feted. Tramps from the surrounding area get to hear about the situation and pour into town for the generosity. The citizens object and Reicher’s hobo guest makes off with his valuables. The overworked police are about to run Warner in when Marjorie comes up with the story that he’s the millionaire, overheard by Warner who thinks her kindness is opportunistic again - nice piece of story construction lifted from the Italian film.
Of the two, that’s the one that goes the distance. Baxter as always suggests hard work rather than the charm that De Sica oozes. Don Ameche for the lead maybe. Lorre is a delight, lazily doing comic gestures to illustrate his dialogue, but some of the celebrity guest shots are disappointingly wasted - clown Jean Herscholt, ringmaster long lived Fritz Feld, the jester from Der Golem & the 5th Columnist in Ted Tetzlaff's riotous 1941 World Premiere. Fox’s Chimpanzee is better value than Camerini’s performing dog but both productions curiously are defeated by the luxury yacht with the Italian’s fielding a terrible matte shot and the Americans offering something closer to a luxury liner.
Zanuck poured studio production value into theirs, wanting to outshine the original but for all the studio spend up, director Walter Lang’s routine competence can’t shape up the material into an appealing whole.
A reasonable copy of I'll Give a Million may be found on the Russian site OK.ru IF YOU CLICK HERE