1931, USA, John G. Adolfi
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to highly recommend The Millionaire. I say “unfortunately” because the film is currently unavailable on home video, so unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that shows old, obscure films, there’s little chance that you’ll be able to see this film.
This unknown comedy gem stars George Arliss, a once renowned stage and screen actor who has faded into obscurity. In his sixties when he did this film, Arliss stars as a Henry Ford-type big businessman who’s forced to retire on doctor’s orders. He soon finds himself feeling his age through boredom, pampering and constant dosage of medication. He’s rejuvenated when he goes into business with a young man, as partners in a failing gas station/garage. The millionaire takes on a double life, sneaking out on his wife and daughter during the day to don a pair of coveralls and pump gas.
The comedy really kicks in when the millionaire and his eager young partner learn they’ve been duped by the previous owner. Unbeknownst to them, a new highway has just opened up, diverting traffic away from their station. The devious owner has opened a showplace gas station on the new highway and hearing that news, the millionaire’s competitive fire is stoked–he vows to beat the man “on his own turf.” This film has many wonderful, laugh-out-loud moments throughout. Arliss’ performance is completely winning. By the end of the film, I was grinning from ear to ear as the audience broke out into applause.
Hopefully, at the rate that films are being released nowadays on DVD, it’s only a matter of time before this and other George Arliss films are available for today’s filmgoers to rediscover this great character actor from the golden age of film. [****]