This review will contain spoilers. If you read the whole review, even with spoilers, you should still derive a great deal of enjoyment from watching this movie. Your humble reviewer has seen this movie several times and is of the opinion that it is among the best of movies from the early 1930s.
John Glidden (Richard Bennett) is a rich man. He owns The John Glidden Corporation – which includes at a minimum; The John Glidden Steel Corporation, The John Glidden Construction Company, and The John Glidden Shipyards. But, John Glidden is also a sick man and he’s expected to die very soon.
As you could imagine, with a multi-millionaire laying on his deathbed, quite a few people are thinking about their own bankbooks. Relatives and business associates have gathered in his home for the deathwatch – and, the moneywatch. Glidden, however, views none of them as worthy, and being completely disgusted by what he sees going on around him, orders his associates to bring him the city directory. He randomly opens the pages and begins to choose names – names of people who will each receive one million dollars to do with whatever they please.
His first recipient is Henry Peabody (Charles Ruggles). Peabody is an unassuming man. He works in a china shop and, since he’s a klutz, his rate of breakage is a detriment to his success as an employee. At home, his wife (Mary Boland) henpecks him to the point of ridiculousness. John Glidden pays him an unexpected visit.
Next is Violet Smith (Wynne Gibson). She’s a prostitute who works her trade out of a bar where Glidden finds her. At first, she thinks he’s a different kind of John. Instead, she is presented a check for one million dollars.
Edward Jackson’s (George Raft) name is chosen from the city directory next. Mr. Jackson is a forger who is already acquainted with the process of cashing a check. Unfortunately, when he cashes a check it’s not normally done in a legal manner. This presents a problem when Mr. Glidden gives him a check for one million dollars. No one will cash it.
Spoiler: Jackson is used to turning worthless checks into money but when presented with a real one, he quickly reduces its value to ten cents.
Emily La Rue (Alison Skipworth) owns a quaint little Tea Shop. Her husband Rollo La Rue (W.C. Fields) is an interesting character. (Isn’t W.C. Fields always an interesting character?) Emily feels that her life is complete except for one thing – she’s always wanted a car and today, a new car is being delivered.
Spoiler: As Emily and Rollo take their first drive in the car, it is destroyed by a reckless driver. When the couple returns bruised and battered to the tea shop, Mr. Glidden is waiting for them with a check.
The La Rue segment is very humorous and you’ll likely find yourself rooting for these folks. It seems that 1932 was plagued by many of the same problems on the roadways that we see today.
Glidden opens the city directory again and chooses the name John Wallace (Gene Raymond). Unfortunately, when Glidden locates Wallace he’s in the state prison on death row. And, today is the day of his execution. As he receives his last rites, he complains that had he been able to hire a lawyer to adequately represent him, he would not be where he is today.
When he’s presented with a check for one million dollars, just minutes before his execution, he feels that he has new hope. With this money he will be able to hire a new lawyer and get a new trial. Everything seems like it is going to be okay now.
Phineas Lambert (Charles Laughton) is a bookkeeper in a large office. This is the shortest example (and one of the funniest) of someone receiving one of Glidden’s gifts.
Next we meet Steven Gallagher (Gary Cooper). Gary Cooper was already over 30 years of age in 1932 and this was certainly not his first role. However, Cooper’s best days as a movie star are yet to come.
Gallagher and his friends are U.S. Marines. Sadly, they seem to spend more time in the hoosegow than anywhere else. When Glidden arrives and presents Gallagher with a check on April 1st, he takes it as a joke and throws Glidden out.
Spoiler: Gallagher is bested only by Edward Jackson. Jackson got 10 cents out of his check. Gallagher gets ten dollars for his.
The most touching scene in the movie is when we meet the final recipient of John Glidden’s generosity.
Mary Walker lives in an old folk’s home. That’s what we used to call them isn’t it?
It’s not a happy place. The women who live there are all lonely. Their husbands have died. Their families seem to ignore them. They live in an environment where they have to wear drab uniforms and they are ruled by a domineering administrator.
They are not allowed to play cards, bake, or even to enjoy the company of a kitten.
The existence of these ladies is very undesirable.
However, John Glidden comes to call and things will take a turn.
Your reviewer feels that this is an impressive example of early filmmaking. This movie has a message and it’s one that should reach everyone.
The technique of moving through several separate stories with a common theme is not unique to this movie but this is an early example, perhaps the first. Seven different directors directed the various segments. The film is well-made and is enjoyable to watch.