Dedicated to the Study and Appreciation
of the Movies and Personalities of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lost and Found: Miss Tatlock's Millions


I interrupt my consideration of The Magnificent
Ambersons for this entry in the Classic Movie
Blog Association's Comedy Classics Blogathon.
For other posts in the blogathon, click on the
link; you'll find my colleagues at CMBA holding
forth on comedies from City Lights to Pillow
Talk, from Ball of Fire to The Producers,
and on stars from Jean Harlow to Gene
Tierney. There are a lot of famous names
and revered titles on the agenda; trust
me to pick one you never heard of.

Miss Tatlock's Millions (1948) is another one of those pre-1950 Paramounts now owned by Universal that I used to see regularly in late-night TV syndication, like Night Has a Thousand Eyes and Alias Nick Beal. That's where I discovered it in the late 1960s -- our local CBS affiliate dipped freely into the Paramount package, and after local news signed off at 11:30 p.m. it was movies every weeknight until the wee hours. Tatlock was one of the titles I used to search for every week in the Late Late Show listings as soon as we got the TV Guide home from the supermarket.

If (as it's sometimes said) Charade and Witness for the Prosecution are the best Hitchcock movies Hitchcock never made, then Miss Tatlock's Millions is one of the best Preston Sturges movies Preston Sturges never made. Of course Sturges (like Hitchcock) remains peerless, and I wouldn't necessarily rank Miss Tatlock's Millions up there with The Lady Eve or Sullivan's Travels. But The Great McGinty? Christmas in July? Definitely. (And for that matter, miles ahead of The Sin of Harold Diddlebock or The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend.)

For starters, just take a gander at -- feast your eyes upon -- the roster of names on this poster. That's what I call a pretty deep bench. I'll get to all of them in time, but let's begin with the fine print way down there at the bottom.

Charles Brackett's name probably rings a bell, and well it should. He was Billy Wilder's writing partner for 13 years; they turned out scripts for other directors (Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, Midnight, Ninotchka, Hold Back the Dawn) and, once Billy turned director, for Wilder himself (The Major and the Minor, Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Weekend, and their mutual masterpiece Sunset Blvd.) Brackett teamed almost as often with young Richard Breen (Breen was 30 in 1948, Brackett 56), and five years later they would share an Oscar (with Walter Reisch) for writing the first Titanic with Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. Brackett and Breen came to Miss Tatlock's Millions fresh from collaborating with Wilder on A Foreign Affair. (And by the way, for info on another Brackett-Breen collaboration, hop over to Tales of the Easily Distracted and read DorianTB on Henry Hathaway's Niagara, another terrific Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock didn't make. But I digress.)

Miss Tatlock's Millions begins, like Sullivan's Travels, with a midnight brawl between two men, this time in a seedy room rather than on a speeding train. Also like Sullivan's Travels, the opener turns out to be a movie-within-the-movie tease. Not on the screen, but on the set: One of the two men crashes through a window, rolls across an overhang, falls on his back in the street below, and a voice shouts, "Okay, cut!" The director is Paramount ace Mitchell Leisen ("I had hoped he'd hit his head on the chimney coming down, but I guess that's the best we can get."), and the man who took the tumble is stuntman Tim Burke (John Lund), doubling for star Ray Milland. Leisen and Milland here make in-joke cameos, a favor to Brackett in return for ones he's done them: scripts for Leisen (Midnight, Hold Back the Dawn, To Each His Own), roles -- and an Oscar -- for Milland (The Major and the Minor; Arise, My Love; The Uninvited; The Lost Weekend). (And say, check out that nameless script girl standing between them; eager to make an impression, or what?)

As he leaves the set, Burke is approached by Denno Noonan (Barry Fitzgerald), who found him through a picture file at Central Casting. Noonan is the social secretary (i.e., "keeper") for one Schuyler Tatlock, the eccentric (i.e., "barking mad") scion of the wealthy Santa Barbara Tatlocks, shipped off by his concerned (i.e., "embarrassed") family to the safe distance of the Hawaiian Islands. That is, he was Schuyler's keeper -- until two years ago, when Schuyler, indulging his weakness for matches, burned himself to death while Noonan was in the village indulging his own weakness for Irish whisky. Noonan never told the family, just stayed there enjoying the sunshine, tropical breezes, and $500-a-month allowance checks. But now Schuyler's grandparents have both died, and Noonan must produce him for the reading of the will; he wants to hire Burke to impersonate Schuyler, "a thousand dollars in 48 hours and no physical discomfort whatsoever." Noonan insists the family won't know the difference -- "They haven't seen him in ten years and they didn't look at him then." Looking at a snapshot, Burke admits there is a strong resemblance. Of course, he'll have to darken his blonde hair, adopt the glasses Schuyler always wore...









...and put the proper expression on his face.


Burke is still dubious, but as Noonan wisely points out, it beats falling off buildings for 150 bucks a pop, so before long they're motoring up the Coast Highway toward Santa Barbara. That's where Burke gets his first glimpse of the Tatlock estate. "Just a sweet little family cottage," Noonan explains, "with 22 bathrooms." "How come they didn't buy the Pacific Ocean too?" asks Burke. "They would've," Noonan says, "only they couldn't landscape the other side."

In that sweet little cottage up there, the heirs of Grandfather and Grandmother Tatlock have started to gather. Already there is Schuyler's younger sister Nancy (Wanda Hendrix), who lived with her grandparents, joined by her uncles Gifford (Dan Tobin) and Miles (Monty Woolley) and Miles's wife Emily (Dorothy Stickney). Emily is sweetly engrossed in her embroidery, but the two brothers are already licking their chops. Miles calculates that after all the assorted taxes and fees, their parents' estate will come to "only" about $6 million. "As a practicing communist, you should be pleased." "Gifford's not a communist, Miles dear," Emily says; "he just likes to see his name on letterheads." "Oh, I admit you're not one by conviction," says Miles. "You just haven't the guts to face being a rich man." Nancy is appalled at their naked greed and goes for a walk in the vast garden (with its $900-a-month watering bill).






Noonan comes in with the ersatz
Schuyler, announcing that Schuyler
is "a turtle" today, and he refuses
to talk to anybody but
other turtles...



 ...so Miles, Gifford and Emily have
no choice but to follow suit -- only
to have "Schuyler" change the game
and guffaw at their silly poses.

Next to arrive is Nicky Van Alen
(Robert Stack), Schuyler and Nancy's
cousin. He's a shallow, conceited Polo
Lounge Lothario who's never given a
second's thought to anything but himself
-- but he's the first one to notice that
there's something different about
Schuyler.





Finally, Burke/Schuyler meets 19-year-old Nancy, who greets him affectionately and remembers how he was "so sweet to me when I was little." Burke is speechless, not sure how to respond, and Nancy turns dolefully to Noonan. "He's worse, isn't he?" Nancy is beautiful, fetching and open-hearted, and it's a real effort for Burke to maintain Schuyler's idiot grin. This job is getting more complicated by the minute.

The last relative to arrive is imperious Cassie Van Alen
(Ilka Chase), Nicky's mother and Miles and Gifford's
sister. But when the will is finally opened and read,
there are a couple of surprises in store for the
acquisitive branches of the Tatlock-Van Alen clan.
Grandfather Tatlock, after a few small bequests to
the servants, left his entire estate to "my beloved
wife Annette Tatlock, for distribution to our heirs"
-- never suspecting that she would outlive him by
only an hour. And what nobody suspected until
now is that Grandmother Annette left a hand-written
holographic will leaving "everything I possess" to her
unfortunate grandson Schuyler -- and as things turned
out, everything she possessed at her death consisted
of the entire Tatlock estate, lock, stock and barrel.
Schuyler gets absolutely everything.




The next morning at breakfast, Miles, Cassie and Gifford fawn over their new favorite nephew, then ignore him as he climbs under the patio table, complacently sure that their conversation will go over his head -- literally and figuratively. From his perch at their feet, Burke hears the three siblings cut a deal: Miles and Gifford will have themselves made Schuyler's trustees, and will then settle a generous allowance -- "Say, $100,000 a year for life" -- on Nancy, which Cassie will gain control of by marrying Nancy off to Nicky.





Once Cassie has explained the facts of life to Nicky, he turns on the oily charm to Nancy, nurturing the crush she has had on him since childhood. "It just hit me all of a sudden," he preens, "I haven't been giving you a break. Did a miracle happen overnight? You've stepped right up into my class. I could show you around with a lot of pleasure."
That night after dinner, Nicky turns up the heat over candlelight and cocktails in the greenhouse. Meanwhile, Burke prowls protectively (and jealously) in the trees overhead, keeping an eye on the snake Nicky's progress. Suddenly he slips and falls through the glass roof, landing flat on his back at Nicky and Nancy's feet, in a real-life reprise of the stunt that opens the picture. This time, however, he's injured and momentarily stunned. Before his head can clear, he speaks to Nancy, forgetting to keep up the babbling Schuyler act. Nancy is thrilled, convinced that the shock has knocked Schuyler into his right mind, and that she has "a real brother" at last.

In the days that follow, Nancy appoints herself Schuyler's personal therapist, moving him into the room next to hers, nursing him back to health, planning to take over his education and ease him into adult society. The aunt and uncles scramble to ingratiate themselves with their newly-competent nephew. And Nicky pouts and fumes that suddenly Nancy has no time for him.

Things quickly get complicated, especially for Burke, who has fallen in love with Nancy. For Nancy too, who can't imagine why all at once her lifelong crush on Nicky pales beside her affection for her "brother". (Here the script plays with sexual taboo in much the way Brackett and Wilder did in The Major and the Minor: In the earlier picture, Ray Milland was disturbed by his feelings for the "child" Ginger Rogers, and the movie got away with it because we knew she was really an adult. In the same way, we know here that "Schuyler" isn't really her brother -- but Nancy doesn't.)

Things begin to tumble out of control, just as Burke did when he fell through the greenhouse roof. Aunt Cassie finds a mysterious bottle of hair dye under the mattress in Noonan's room, which sets her thinking, and doing a little homework. She still has a few tricks up her sleeve.



Well, I think that's about as far as I want to go; mustn't spoil everything. Miss Tatlock's Millions is one of the forgotten pleasures of 1940s Hollywood. I'm told that it was a moderate success at the box office with a loyal cult following (rather similar, I imagine, to the response to the original Peter Cook-Dudley Moore Bedazzled in 1967). A quick glance at the picture's user reviews (including my own) on the IMDb testifies to the fondness for it among those who saw it, either in theaters in 1948 or (like me) later in its TV syndication.

Miss Tatlock's Millions was directed by veteran character actor Richard Haydn, who also appears (under the name "Richard Rancyd") as the family attorney who breaks the good news to "Schuyler" and the bad news to Miles, Cassie and Gifford. As Lawyer Fergel (accent on the second syllable, please), Haydn uses the patented hyper-nasal, super-enunciated voice for which he was famous, the same voice he used as the Caterpillar in Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland ("Ah-whooo...aaaarrrrrre...Ah-yooo?"). Haydn could be just as memorable without the voice, most noticeably as "Uncle" Max Detweiler in The Sound of Music in 1965. (I've heard many people bemoan the fact that Christopher Plummer was passed over for an Oscar nomination in that picture, and I agree with them. But even more unjust, I think, was the failure to nominate Haydn as best supporting actor. It should have been the capstone of his career.) For Tatlock -- the first of only three pictures he directed -- Haydn adopted a style and pace less headlong and frenetic than Preston Sturges at his best, but still sprightly, giving his sterling cast plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy themselves. (Brackett and Breen's sparkling dialogue gave Monty Woolley one of his signature lines, often quoted by people with no idea of where it came from: "California, the only state in the Union where you can go to sleep under a rosebush in full bloom -- and freeze to death.")

Haydn could take considerable pride in the performance he got from John Lund. Lund's career never quite fulfilled its early promise; he seems to have spent much of it -- certainly at Paramount -- being palmed off as a taller version of Alan Ladd. Certainly, he shows here a flair for semi-slapstick comedy that was seldom given rein, and never exploited as fully as Brackett, Breen and Haydn do here. Miss Tatlock's Millions is, not to mince words, a riot, and it's largely thanks to John Lund.

Miss Tatlock's Millions is harder to find than it was in 1948, or during the 1960s and '70s on TV, but it hasn't entirely dropped off the face of the earth. It briefly appeared on VHS during the Video Stone Age. Still, it was rare enough that I considered myself lucky to score a 16mm print on eBay about six years ago. No sooner did I do that than it came out on DVD-R from Hollywood's Attic (as a general rule of thumb, if you want to ensure that a movie comes out on DVD, talk me into buying a 16mm print of it). That disc appears to have been transferred from a 16mm syndication print, but it's decent enough; the pictures in this post are frame-caps from it. But even that is out of print now, though you can still (as of this writing) find a few copies on Amazon. Miss Tatlock's Millions is long overdue for a proper DVD transfer from original elements, or at least a 35mm print -- a transfer that does justice not only to the performances, but to Victor Young's music and Charles Lang's cinematography. 

How about it, Universal?


20 comments:

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I'm sorry to say I've never seen this one, but your description makes it sound such fun. Great post.

Caftan Woman said...

A loosened up, goofy John Lund sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

It's sad to look back over the years and think of the treasure house of movies that used to show up regularly on television then gradually disappeared on us. Thanks for clearing the dust off of "Miss Tatlock's Millions".

FlickChick said...

This is one of those films that I have heard about, but never seen. Your review is terrific and now I have to hunt this one down, too. This blogathon is keeping me busy (but in stitches)!

Rick29 said...

Jim, you had me with "imposter" and "eccentric family"--two of my favorite comedic conventions. Plus, I'm up for any movie with Monty Woolley in the cast. Though I've seen both NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES and ALIAS NICK BEAL, I somehow missed MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS. Based on your review, it sounds delightful and I will join the write-in campaign to get a quality print released on DVD!

Grand Old Movies said...

Haven't seen this film, but it sounds like fun - will have to look for it. I didn't know that Richard Haydn had directed movies - and, considering your mention of Preston Sturges, he probably would have fit into the Sturges universe quite nicely. I wish that Universal would release much more of Paramount's output, as there's a treasure trove there waiting to be discovered. Can't understand why the studio is so stingy about it.

Dawn said...

I have not yet seen this film, but.. what a great a cast that would be fun to watch in any classic film. Awesome post!

Kevin Deany said...

I've never seen this one, but it was a great favorite of my late father's. I can remember him describing it with a big grin on his face. Since TCM is showing more Paramount product of late, we can only hope it shows up there soon. Great post, Jim.

John Greco said...

Wow! You certainly picked an obscure one! It's amazing how many films are out there waiting to be rediscovered. Thanks for a great review and the enlightenment.

KimWilson said...

You really did pick one I've never heard of! At first I though you'd mistyped and you meant The Mad Miss Manton with Babs Stanwyck! LOL! Oh well, enjoyed reading your review of this quirky picture.

whistlingypsy said...

Jim ~ I think it is fair to say this blogathon is as much about sharing old favorites as it is discovering new gems. You have done a wonderful job of sharing a film most of us have never seen, and insuring we all add this to our must see lists. I am only familiar with John Lund from his somewhat stodgy dramatic roles, but he certainly pulled-off the zany character of Schuyler Tatlock (love the turtle gimmick). A cast that includes Barry Fitzgerald, Richard Hayden, Robert Stack and Monty Wooley makes me wonder why this film isn’t better known and better represented. Has it appeared at classic film festivals, and if no, why not? Thanks for introducing me to a film that is certain to be a new favorite.

DorianTB said...

Jim, your nose for hidden movie gems has served you well once again, this time with MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS! You had me at "Richard Haydn'! :-) Seriously, as I mentioned in my current BALL OF FIRE review over at TotED, Richard Haydn has been one of my favorite character actors and animated voice-over actors for years, and I'm delighted to discover he was in the director's chair for this film and others. I'm also a fan of Wanda Hendrix (especially her performance in RIDE THE PINK HORSE). Your thoroughly entertaining review had me eager to somehow get my hands on the complete film. Vinnie and I have decided that finding all of the all-but-lost films like ...TATLOCK... will be our top arts-related goal once time travel is perfected. :-)

The REALLY silly part is that I've seen exactly five minutes of ...TATLOCK..., namely the LAST five minutes! Granted, I'm a gal who can't resist zipping over to the end of a novel to see if I'll like all the stuff that came before, but this is ridiculous. Now if I could see the rest of it -- on TCM, perhaps? -- that'd be swell! :-)

Speaking of swellness, Jim, thanks a million for your generous shoutout and link for my recent NIAGARA review -- you're a real mensch! (To those not in the know, yes, being a mensch is a good thing!)

Page said...

Jim,
I have seen Sullivan's Travels but not this film. After reading your review I'm sorry I've missed it but hopefully I can correct that soon.

That shot of the mansion looks like Hearst Castle at a distance. From your description the guests are about as wild and crazy as Hearst's often were.

The guy pretending to be a turtle and your screen grabs had me laughing.

What a fun film this is! I can't wait to see it.
Another great review Jim. Well Done!
Page

Jim Lane said...

Thanks, all, for the kind comments. I do hope you all get a chance to see this one someday; maybe it will turn up on TCM at that, now that Warners and Universal have reached an understanding about (some of) those old Paramounts.

Whistlingypsy, funny you should ask about whether Miss Tatlock has appeared at any classic film festivals. I've been trying for years to interest one particular such festival in screening my print, to no avail. Whether there's any interest at any of the others, I couldn't say.

Dorian, I'm curious to know how you managed to catch only the last five minutes; tuning in late? A pity; that's a good scene, but more of a payoff than a highlight. Hope you catch up with the rest someday.

DorianTB said...

Jim, since you asked, for some reason I frequently tend to stumble across films in the middle or during the last few minutes of the film in question. It's a little like being unstuck in time! :-) Anyway, I hope MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS will finally become available, and I for one will start pestering TCM and such to dig it up for us screwball comedy fans to enjoy! Who's with me? :-)

R. D. Finch said...

Jim, a great post. How can I never have heard of this movie before now? It DOES sound a lot like a Preston Sturges picture and the screwballs of earlier years, with its mockery of the rich and its castload of eccentrics. And what a cast--so many favorites of mine from this time. I wasn't aware that Richard Haydn had ever directed a movie, much less three of them. I first him saw when I was a youngster in a "Twilight Zone" episode called "A Thing About Machines," where he made a memorable impression, but didn't know he was the star of that episode until years later, even after becoming aware of him as the adenoidal fusspot in so many comedies of the 40s. Glad you decided to write on something so unexpected. I'll be watching for this one.

Classicfilmboy said...

OMG, this sounds like a winner! And thanks for picking a film no one has heard of, which is what a good blogathon should unearth. Could you lend me your 16 mm print or at least invite me over to see it??

Debra Henkener said...

Jim, I just came across your review when I was searching for the name of this movie on the internet. You and I share something in common...I saw this movie in the 1960's and it made such an impression on me that I never forgot it! I just couldn't remember the name. Thanks for describing it perfectly. I might have to order it since it is finally available in several online movie stores.

Jim Lane said...

Welcome, Debra, and thanks for stopping by. I see we both discovered Miss Tatlock's Millions about the same time. I hope you're able to snag your own copy of it, as I see supplies at Amazon are dwindling -- one used DVD even has a price tag of $999.99! (Evidently somebody doesn't really want to let go of it.)

soaplover said...

Miss Tatlock's Millions is one of my all-time favorite comedies--probably the funniest of them all. I've loved it since it first came out.

John Lund is absolutely superb in this, hilarious, and his comedic timing is perfection. From beginning to end he is terrific. And what a cast--Woolley is his acerbic best, Ilka Chase dryly sarcastic ('Nicky has to act fast--his charm wears off after a couple hours'..she says about her son).

Richard Haydn's annoyingly slow reader-of-the-will is his usual joy, and we can't overlook Barry Fitzgerald--another comic joy.

I've bought this in tape and DVD and never received a decent copy of it. It always looks like a VHS tape copied over and over, kinda watery. At least I can watch it and try to re-live the fun of it, but a good DVD would be wonderful and this is a film all film lovers really need to see.

I've heard various reason why it is one of the lost films--that the studio buried it in the archives, that the original burned in a studio fire, that no one thought it important enough to keep decent copies. Whatever the excuse it is high time for all good movie lovers to bombard TCM!

Jim Lane said...

Thanks for dropping by, soaplover! I share your frustration at Tatlock's scant showing on video. I too have bought one or two of those multi-generational VHS dupes and cringed at the poor quality. Finally I found the reasonably decent DVD copy from which the images in this post were captured. But a glance at the customer reviews on Amazon shows that few buyers found it as satisfactory as I did; maybe I was just lucky. Now (two years after my post) even that is no longer available, and the source, Hollywood's Attic in Burbank, CA, has gone out of business.

As for why Miss Tatlock's Millions remains "lost", I suspect (and hope) it's more likely buried in the Universal vault rather than destroyed and gone forever. With no powerhouse names to hang a DVD release on, Universal probably figures it's just not worth the time and money. Universal took the trouble with some of their old Paramounts -- W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Preston Sturges for the stars he worked with (Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, Betty Hutton, etc.), and so on. But John Lund? Wanda Hendrix? Not so much. There's always hope, but in the meantime we can take comfort from knowing that at least the picture's not genuinely lost.

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