“At least when you’ve got money, you can afford to buy your own kind of misery.”
An eccentric millionaire (Charles Coburn) decides to secretly live with the descendants of a woman who once turned down his proposal of marriage, to determine whether they’re worthy of becoming his heirs. He quickly grows to like the Blaisdell family — including beautiful Millicent (Piper Laurie), her young sister Roberta (Gigi Perreau), her brother Howard (William Reynolds), her parents (Lynn Bari and Larry Gates), and her boyfriend (Rock Hudson) — but when he anonymously gifts the Blaisdells with $100,000, he learns that money is actually causing them more grief than true joy.
The premise of this frothy ’20s-era “musical” by Douglas Sirk is preposterous — but it’s fun seeing bristly character-actor Coburn in a rare leading role as an avuncular if screwy benefactor, and we can’t help hoping his “Secret Santa” maneuvers will yield positive results. Unfortunately, once Bari’s character shifts into bitchy petulance and snobbery, we get the feeling that Coburn has put all his eggs-of-charity in the wrong basket. One wonders what Sirk’s satirical and narrative aims here are, exactly — especially given that the ultimate moral of the story (money can’t buy love or happiness) isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Sirk’s production values are as colorful as always, and the opening credits are fun — but this one ultimately remains simply a curiosity in Sirk’s oeuvre. For a more potent example of how unexpected wealth can yield surprising challenges, see the fast-paced comedy Brewster’s Millions (1945).
Note: Step away and you’ll miss a brief appearance by James Dean as an (uncredited) “youth at the soda fountain”! (Check out the strange writing on his pants in the still below… I can make out “HOT DOG”.) Does anyone have more info on his presence here?
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Charles Coburn as “John Smith”
- Coburn’s fun interactions with Gigi Perreau (as young Roberta)
- Typically fine “Sirk-ian” production values
- Fun opening credits
No, though it’s worth a look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.