A Millionaire for Christy (1951)
Directed by George Marshall
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Eleanor Parker, Richard Carlson, Una Merkel
* Published specifically for The Eleanor Parker Blogathon hosted by Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films *
My friend Kate interviewed Eleanor’s son and fourth child, Paul, and featured the interview on her podcast. Please click here for the episode.
By the way, I had not realised either that Eleanor wore a wig in Scaramouche!
Hers and His
Christabel “Christy” Sloane (Eleanor Parker) is a selfless young woman who works as a secretary at the Law Offices of Thompson, Tate & Desmond in San Francisco. She works primarily as a means to support her family, including a younger brother and a self-incapacitated father. Often times her salary goes to pay their expenses and the little money that she has left over also seems to dissipate into thin air. On this particular morning that we are introduced to her, Christy is being hounded by a creditor who has come to collect her only fancy article of clothing – a lovely fur coat. Frustrated and saddened, Christy laments over her troubles to her colleague Patsy (Una Merkel) while they are preparing papers for their boss, Mr. Thompson.
A client of Mr. Thompson’s by the name of Peter Ulysses Lockwood (Fred MacMurray) has inherited 28 million pesos ($2 million) from an uncle who lived in Argentina. On paper, Peter seems to be regal and come from a family of high social standing though reality is much different. He is a regular Joe who earns his living as a charlatan “philosopher” who sells remedies and juices to boost morale via a radio show in Los Angeles. It is part of his act to appear to be highly successful which has helped his love life immensely although his pockets reach far and are always empty. Having enjoyed a string of romances, Peter has settled upon marrying June Chandler, a wealthy heiress who he stole right from under the unsuspecting nose of his best friend Doc (Richard Carlson).
The circumstances for Christy and Peter meeting are really quite simple: She is to give him legal papers to sign in-person so to validate his inheritance. What sounds like an easy task manages to turn into chaos, however. Foremost, with a lot of convincing from Patsy, Christy fools herself into thinking that she can win the affections of Peter. By getting herself a millionaire, her money troubles will automatically be over! Then, Peter gets the impression that Christy is out of her mind and telling him a tale, so he does not take her seriously.
Their mutual understanding leads to a wrecked wedding, an expensive car halfway submerged in the ocean, a risqué evening of tequila drinking, a faked case of amnesia, and even more craziness. Despite all this madness, Christy and Peter manage to genuinely fall in love with one another even though neither knows how to move forward with the situation, especially with June and Doc still heavily playing in the storyline!
Love, Screwball Comedy Style
A Millionaire for Christy is full of gags and also filled with a lot of talent. Fred MacMurray had struck gold 7 years earlier in what many consider to be the greatest film noir ever, Double Indemnity. Eleanor Parker received her first of three Academy Award nominations the year prior for her unbelievable, courageous portrayal in Caged. Richard Carlson was a supporting actor but also later branched out into writing and directing, where he would receive much deserved recognition. Una Merkel’s career had already spanned nearly three decades and ten years after this film, she would finally be nominated for her sole Oscar for Summer and Smoke. Merkel is the only player who is underused in the film and it is quite the mystery as to why her screen time is so limited.
The characters are generally quite likable with the notable exception being June, played by Kay Buckley who starred in only a handful of films in her short Hollywood career. June was very brusque and standoffish which are not two qualities that you expect from a blushing bride. If anything, her outward characteristics made it all the more obvious that Peter was marrying her for her financial assets. One thing that Peter shared in common in Christy right off the bat was the dissatisfaction of being poor. It is quite an ironic thing that they end up together but more empty-handed than they were than in the beginning!
Absurdity and nuttiness are two of the main ingredients in any screwball comedy and A Millionaire for Christy is no exception to the rule. The premise of this film is a bit far-fetched but the overall story is a lot of fun. It is the kind of picture that you need to just sit back and enjoy because if you over think any of the plot, you will be quite miserable.
With all this being said, I could not help to wonder about one particular point in the story. Why in the world was Doc so obsessed with Peter’s money if he planned on stealing June back from him? If Doc and June were to marry, then he would be able to tap in to her fortune which was many times that of Peter’s inheritance. Who can explain the ways of the human heart? 🙂
Elly, the Woman of a Thousand Faces
There could not be a more apt nickname given to Eleanor Parker, who was an actress of extraordinary talent. She took on an array of roles throughout her career and indeed often changed her look for each one. There were times when she was a blonde, a brunette, or a redhead. In Caged, she even willingly had her head shaved on film to give more realism to both her character and the picture as an entirety. When I was first expanding my horizons in the realm of Classic Film, I took note of Eleanor quite early on although, at that time, I did not know her by name. In each film that I saw her, I was amazed by her performances and strong screen presence that she brought. It did not take me long to realise that I needed to do some research and get to know her better.
Watching A Millionaire for Christy is the first time that I have had the pleasure of seeing Eleanor in a romantic, screwball type film. Having been familiar with her serious, more dramatic roles, it was a breath of fresh air to see Eleanor smiling and acting silly. (Honestly, has there been an actress of her calibre who has played more suffering, wrongly done characters than her?) I never felt that she was out of place or that it was a stretch of my imagination to see her doing comedy. She kept up with the jokes, with the action, and with her co-stars. Fred MacMurray was no stranger to romantic comedies and had already charmed the likes of Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur, Madeleine Carroll, Marlene Dietrich, Irene Dunne and Paulette Goddard as his leading ladies. So Eleanor was in very good hands and benefited from Fred not overplaying his role and grabbing all of the attention. It would have been nice to see them paired together for another film.