KID MILLIONS (Samuel Goldwyn, 1934), directed by Roy Del Ruth, marks the fifth collaboration of the Samuel Goldwyn/Eddie Cantor annual productions, and another winner to their collection of musical comedies from the Depression-era 1930s, and the most lavish and entertaining thus far.
The story begins in New York City where a naive, good-natured Brooklyn schnook named Edward Grant Wilson Jr. (Eddie Cantor), a Cinderfella-type of a guy living by the waterfront with his rough-and-tough step-brothers (Edgar Kennedy, Stanley Fields and Jack Kelly), who take pride in "stepping" on their little Eddie when the mood conveniently suits them. Eddie, who sings to the neighborhood kids, is comforted by his steady girlfriend named (Doris Davenport). When news breaks out that Eddie's archaeologist father has died and left him his entire fortune of $77 million, Eddie soon finds himself the center of attention and treated like royalty by his stepbrothers. At the advice of his attorneys, Eddie sets sail on board the S.S. Luxor bound for Egypt, later to be accompanied by his lawyer friend, Jerry Lane (George Murphy) in Gibrartar, to claim his fortune. Also on board ship are Dot Clark (Ethel Merman), a Broadway songplugger, and her gangster stooge, Louie the Lug (Warren Hymer), posing as Eddie's long lost mother and uncle, trying to get him to sign a document over to them, failing at all costs; and Colonel Harry Larrabee (Berton Churchill), a Southerner gentleman from Virginia who had financed the original expedition for Eddie's father and now wants his cut of the money. He invites his attractive niece, Joan (Ann Sothern), unaware of her uncle's scheme, to keep Jerry occupied while the Colonel works on Eddie. After porting in Alexandria, Eddie encounters a sheik's (Paul Harvey) daffy daughter, Fanya (Eve Sully), and her jealous beau, Ben Ali (Jesse Block), later to be surrounded by the Sheik's beautiful harem girls. Eddie prances among the Pyramids seeking his inheritance while the others try to disinherit him by claiming that they are the rightful heirs, almost causing Eddie to become the human sacrifice and those associated with him.
As silly as this sounds in print, including one particular scene where the 19-year-old Dot (Merman) tries to convince the 25-year-old Eddie she's is his mother, KID MILLIONS succeeds at all costs. That same scene in which Mama Merman tells "Uncle" Louie to give Eddie a kiss is something of a surprise as to how THAT got by the censors. Eve Sully (in her movie debut), part of the comedy team of Sully and Block, practically steals every comic moment from her leading performers, particularly with her distinctive voice and Gracie Allen-type mannerisms. A pity she never worked in further features or comedy shorts. KID MILLIONS also offers a glimpse of the youthful Ann Sothern (quite slim and trim) and Ethel Merman in her flare of sassy comedy.
Aside from funny business, KID MILLIONS takes time out for songs, good songs, compliments of composers Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn, Harold Adamson and Harold Lane, with choreography by Seymour Felix, including: "An Earful of Music" (sung by Ethel Merman); "When My Ship Comes In" (sung by Eddie Cantor); "Your Head on My Shoulder" (sung by Ann Sothern and George Murphy); THE SHIP'S CONCERT MINSTREL SHOW: "An Earful of Music" (briefly sung by Merman); "I Want to Be a Minstrel Man" (sung by Harold Nicholas and Goldwyn Girls); "Mandy" (by IRVING BERLIN, sung by Eddie Cantor in black-face, Ethel Merman, Ann Sothern, George Murphy and Goldwyn Girls); "Your Head on My Shoulder" (sung by Murphy and Sothern); "Mandy" (reprise by Cantor, Sothern and Murphy), followed and concluded by a dance number highlight by The Nicholas Brothers; "Okay, Toots" (sung by Eddie Cantor); "Ice Cream Fantasy" (sung by Ethel Merman, Eddie Cantor and children) and "When My Ship Comes In" (sung by Eddie Cantor).
The elaborate finale of THE ICE CREAM FANTASY, photographed in Technicolor, is something that would have made Walt Disney proud. While all the songs are tuneful, with "Mandy" being the best known of the bunch, the others are not as well known. The solo number featuring The Nicholas Brothers, then young boys, easily displays their unique talents as first rate performers with a once in a lifetime dancing style that has yet to be equaled or surpassed by anyone. Thank goodness for the likes of the Nicholas Brothers in demonstrating the kind of entertainment, long missing in today's world of movie making, that will never go out of fashion and continue to delight for as long as their films continue to be shown.
Also seen in the supporting cast are Stymie Beard and Tommy Bond (familiar faces of the "Our Gang" comedy shorts); Henry Kolker as an attorney; and Jack Kennedy. Avid film buffs will delight in trying to spot a young blonde Lucille Ball as one of the Goldwyn Girls, noticeably in the "Mandy" and "Okay Toots" numbers. Barbara Pepper, another TV veteran (Doris Ziffel in GREEN ACRES in the 1960s), also taking part as a Goldwyn Girl.
KID MILLIONS, along with ROMAN SCANDALS (1933), are two musical comedies to have survived the longest on video cassette display, while other Cantor/Goldwyn musicals have been discontinued. Aside from being common place in late night presentation on commercial television in the 1960s and '70s, KID MILLIONS had aired on numerous cable channels in the 1980s, ranging from Arts & Entertainment, the Family Channel, Turner Network Television, and finally on American Movie Classics from 1992 to 1998. It's a million dollar production that has become a million dollar movie of 90 minute screen entertainment. (***1/2)