If contaminated by it, anyone capable of setting aside “political correctness” will love Kid Millions, one of the most exhilarating musical-comedies of the Great Depression. Eddie Cantor and Ethel Merman are both hilarious, and both sing marvelously, beautifully. Roy Del Ruth directed, with great joy and agility, from an endearing script by Nunnally Johnson, Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin. Samuel Goldwyn produced—and among the Goldwyn Girls one can spot Paulette Goddard and Lucille Ball.
Warm, modest and bashful, Cantor plays Brooklyn’s impoverished barge worker Eddie Wilson, Jr. (Cantor), who inherits $77 million from his long-estranged archaeologist father, who appropriated an ancient Egyptian treasure, inviting the Muslim tribal leader’s plans to murder Eddie for the sake of ancestral honor. “Sheik” Mulhulla isn’t alone in plotting against Eddie’s life: claiming to be the deceased’s common-law wife, hence, Eddie’s “mother” (she is 18; Eddie, 25), Dot Clark (Merman) aims to snatch the fortune for herself, which requires Eddie’s elimination since the deceased stipulated that Eddie should inherit the loot. In any case, it’s off to Egypt, where Mulhulla’s nutty daughter (Eve Sully) falls for Eddie, who has his own sweetheart back home. But what if marriage can save his life?
Tuneful, lavish, loaded with ingenious word-plays and wisecracks, and bound headlong for box office success, Kid Millions is terrific entertainment. In one sensational number, Eddie, his “banjo eyes” almost frighteningly enhanced by the blackface he is wearing, very modestly taps while being flanked by two dancing dynamos, ages 18 and 11: Fayard and Harold Nicholas—the Nicholas Brothers (here, without their later acrobatics). Each brother and Eddie tap out an entirely different set of steps, making this a non-Busby Berkeley—an anti-impersonal, symmetrical, synchronized—number. By the way, Fayard counsels Eddie to pay attention to Harold as he dances. It’s hard to say on what level this is most moving, but let’s start with the level of fraternal pride.
Some feel it’s a flaw that the young romantics, the boy and the ingénue (George Murphy, Ann Sothern), unceremoniously vanish off the face of the film. Really? Aren’t the filmmakers making a critical point, that we enjoy this sort of stereotypical pair only up to a point?
The concluding number, which is insane and full of the oddest-looking ice cream, is in Technicolor.
Music and lyrics by two teams: Gus Kahn and Burton Lane; Harold Adamson and Walter Donaldson. Seymour Felix choreographed the musical ensembles.
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