Million Dollars Legs (1932): Edward Cline’s Pre-Code Lunatic Comedy, Starring W. C. Fields and Jack Oakie

Edward F. Cline, a prolific but obscure director, helmed Million Dollar Legs, a lunatic musical comedy, produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz (co-writer of Citizen Kane) and B.P. Schulberg.

starring Jack Oakie and W.C. Fields, it was co-written by Mankiewicz, and released by Paramount Pictures.

The film was reportedly inspired by the 1932 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, California, and in turn inspired the work of the Marx Brothers.

While visiting the mythical country of Klopstokia on business, brush salesman Migg Tweeny (Jack Oakie) collides with a young woman (Susan Fleming) on the street and the two fall instantly in love.

Her name is Angela—all the women in Klopstokia are named Angela, and the men are named George—and she is the daughter of Klopstokia’s president (W.C. Fields), whose country is bankrupt, and who relies upon physical strength to dominate a cabinet conspiring to overthrow him.

Tweeny, hoping to win the hand of the president’s daughter, presents him with a plan to remedy Klopstokia’s financial woes: The president is to enter the 1932 Summer Olympics, win the weightlifting competition, and collect large cash reward that has been offered to medalists by Tweeny’s employer.

Tweeny then sets out to find athletes to make up Klopstokia’s Olympic team, and quickly discovers that the country abounds in athletes of preternatural abilities. The team, with Tweeny as trainer, boards a steamship bound for America.

Meanwhile, the rebellious cabinet ministers, determined to sabotage Klopstokia’s Olympic bid, have enlisted the services of “Mata Machree, the Woman No Man Can Resist” (Lyda Roberti), a Mata Hari-based spy type, who sets out to destroy the team’s morale by seducing each athlete and then setting them against each other in collective brawl.

Her efforts succeed: When the team arrives in Los Angeles, it is in no condition to compete. After pep talk from Tweeny fails to inspire, Angela tracks down Mata, defeats her in underwater fight, and forces confession before the assembled team, which restores the athletes’ fighting spirit. They then take to the field and begin winning events.

The weightlifting competition begins, and Klopstokia needs only three more points for victory.

In the final scene, Tweeny excites the president’s fierce temper in order to inspire him to final superhuman effort. The president throws a 1000-lb weight at Tweeny, missing him, but winning both the competition and the shot put for Klopstokia.

It’s only 64 minute long, with no coherent structure or clear intent, yet it contains many funny moments, and some clever one-liners, which are delivered in seedy pacing, in the vein of the crazy Marx Brothers’ comedies.

Lyda Roberti, a comic dancer and singer with pan-European accent and seductive hips, plays (or rather parodies) a femme fatale, who physically looks like Jean Harlow, but is inspired by German Marlene Dietrich and her Shapley, or Swedish Garbo (who did play Mata Hari), both of whom were very popular in the early 1930s.

The movie, which features comedians W. C. Fields and Jack Oakie, is more a free-spirited satire, albeit an odd one, with surreal overtones and lacking any discipline.

Jack Oakie as Migg Tweeny
W.C. Fields as the President
Andy Clyde as the Major-Domo
Lyda Roberti as Mata Machree
Susan Fleming as Angela
Ben Turpin as Mysterious Man
Hugh Herbert as Secretary of the Treasury
Irving Bacon as Secretary of War (uncredited)
George Barbier as Mr. Baldwin
Dickie Moore as Willie – Angela’s brother
Ben Taggart as the Ship Captain (uncredited)
Billy Gilbert as sneezing cabinet minister (uncredited)