If you think that Hollywood has gone to pot since the war, send an acquaintance to the Kenmore to see the two revivals now on display there. Do not go yourself. Your friend will return singing the praises of current productions, for the pair of films are respectively mediocre and ghastly.
"If I Had A Million" is an early attempt at the formula that later proved successful in "Tales of Manhattan." A dying millionaire decides to give away his money--in million-dollar gobs--to people selected at random from the city directory. He does this to avoid leaving it to his relatives, who are gathered in the hallway like homing turkey buzzards. The point of it all is that Good People can be happy with money, but that Bad People cannot, and so on, through half a dozen incidents.
Some of the individual skits are very well done. W. C. Fields manages to wreak vengeance on road-bogs at large for the wrecking of his hard-earned flivver by a member of their clan. He manages to destroy five cars in the process, and to do so amusingly, George Raft, a forger, cannot cash his million-dollar check since the police are after him and no bank will take a draught with his writing on it. Gary Cooper and Jack Oakie lose theirs because they like to sock sergeants (they are in the Marines).
What spoils this film is stilted direction and lack of continuity. The incidents appear choppy, and the final one--in an old ladies' home--is almost mawkish in its sentimentality. The picture needs a director like Frank Capra: someone who can be heartwarming and hypersentimental and get away with it.
Up to this point, you could have gone yourself to refute the decline-of-American-movies theory. But "Peter Ibbetson" should keep you home. It is an adaptation of a DuMaurier novel, set (of course) in the 19th century. It is the worst movie I have ever seen.
The "plot" falls into three sections:
I. A little boy and a little girl are at play in a Paris suburb. The little boy's mother is very sick, and dies. The little boy's cruel uncle comes and takes him away to England. The little boy and the little girl are unhappy.
II. The little boy has grown into Gary Cooper with a mustache. He is a rising architect with the scars of an old would on his heart. He goes to Paris, where he sees his old house. He returns to England and goes to Yorkshire to rebuild some stables for the Duke of Tower. The Duke's wife--guess who she turns out to be--falls in love with him, and vice-versa. The duke walks in on them in her bedroom, pulls a gun, and gets killed as Cooper brains him with a chair, Cooper gets life in a prison on a bleak moor.
III. Cooper is in jail, the duchess in her castle. They meet only in dreams for the rest of their lives. He dies within a few minutes of her decease, and goes after her in aground fog up to his knees.
I don't know just how much blame goes to DuMaurier and how much to the people who followed the story so faithfully. It really doesn't matter. Ten minutes of W. C. Fields--not at his best--is not worth spending three hours to disprove a hypothesis. So, send an acquaintance.