Soldier Monty Brewster (Dennis O’Keefe) returns from the war and learns he’s the heir to his uncle’s $8 million fortune. The big catch is that Monty must spend $1 million of it before his 30th birthday in order to get the rest. That gives him only two months to gamble, shop, finance pipe dreams and fling cash to the birds. He wanted to give it to charity but only a small amount is allowed for that, and none is permitted that could count as an asset in the future. He’s also forbidden from marrying his girl Peggy (Helen Walker), until the challenge is done, and must keep the inheritance conditions a secret, so it looks to everyone like Monty is a maniac burning through his only million.
The uncle made this weird rule to ensure Monty would be sick of spending before getting access to the entire fortune, and that mission is accomplished for both Monty and the viewer. This clever comedy just flies by as Monty frantically leases penthouse offices, invests in anything that moves, sets up giveaways, hires his friends on astronomical salaries, and purchases extravagant gifts. But it’s still hard to get to zero balance when he’s a good guy who attracts prosperity and has a Midas touch. He bets on a losing horse who makes a miraculous comeback, he wins a contest, gets a reward for luring a mugger, and buys losing stock that defies expectations.
As his money boomerangs, snowballs or is saved by well-meaning friends, Monty starts to crack, but he manages to find bigger and dumber things to spend on, like a ridiculously bloated stage show and a non-stop party yacht, and he finally achieves poverty at the stroke of noon on his birthday, only to have friends shower him with last minute pity cash.
O’Keefe is fantastic as he takes Monty from a solid, humble fellow to a frazzled and desperate nut muttering in his sleep about expenses and days remaining, or running around in his underwear and Captain’s hat doing a jig. He’s so likable you want him to succeed, but to everyone around him that success looks like insanity and recklessness, so the better he does the more he alienates the people who are his real treasures.
Brewster’s Millions was a 1902 novel by George Barr McCutcheon that became the basis for a hit play and ten film adaptations, including the 1985 version with Richard Pryor and John Candy, and three movies made in India, which I find a fascinating factoid. It’s evergreen material that in this version produces several laugh out loud moments and features a great cast. Joe Sawyer and Herbert Rudley play Monty’s loyal and “helpful” buddies, June Havoc is a nimble dancer in aspiring impresario Mischa Auer’s production, Gail Patrick is the socialite throwing wild parties with Monty’s funds and her father’s failing bank is a convenient money pit, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson plays the friendly servant and John Litel and Neil Hamilton are the strict executor and lawyer who seem more than a little amused by Monty’s screwball predicament.