John Kent (Monte Blue') wins the Olympic decathlon but is disqualified on a charge of professionalism. William Stevens (Kenneth Harlan), the second-place finisher, is awarded the title and trophies. Six years later Kent is running a moving truck for a living and training his young son Johnny (Bruce Bennett) to become an athlete. Chance brings about a meeting between Ken and Stevens, now a prosperous business man, with a little daughter, Joan (Joan Fontaine), who makes friends with young Johnny. As the years pass, the grown-up Johnny has developed to where he stands a chance of becoming an Olympic athlete and is in love with Joan. Mr. Stevens also wants to see Johnny succeed, and is annoyed that his attention to Joan may interfere with his training. Rich girl Patricia Stanley (Suzanne Kaaren) is also interested in Johnny, a proceeding which suits wealthy young athlete Duke Hale (Reed Howes), who is Johnny's main rival in sports and for Joan. Stevens, in an effort to repay the elder Kent for the wrong done him in stripping him of his rightful Olympic title, makes Johnny a member of the athletic club that sponsors the preliminary track-and-field events leading to the choosing of the American team for the Olympic Games. Johnny wins first place in the initial trials and is carried away by the flattery of the social set, which leads to a quarrel and separation from his father. At a party given by Patricia, Johnny drinks heavily, and Joan, feeling she is partly to blame for Johnny breaking his training, tells him she is through if him, hoping to bring him to his senses.
Real life athelete Herman Brix stars as an Olympic hopeful, rigorously trained by his father (silent star Monte Blue). They train at a camp run by former silent star Kenneth Harlan, who has a marvelously modern daughter (very young Joan Fontaine) who can scarcely contain her attraction to the fit Mr. Brix. Enter two carloads of rich young things, and the athelete's life becomes complicated by all the temptations that the fast life has to offer. Aside from exciting track and field event footage, the picture is a series of "getting even" schemes, lead by the unusual combination of future forties girl Suzanne Kaarn and a clotheshorse turn by former Arrow Collar man-silent "B" action star, Reed Howes. The glory of this film is noticing that Mr. Howes, always a star so long as he kept moving, does all of his own stunt work, which in this film includes keeping up with Mr. Brix, a professional athelete some 8 years his junior, not only on the field and in a series of jumps and breathtaking javelin lunges, but also in an extended fight scene during which the panting Miss Fontaine locks herself inside the tennis courts with the battling duo. Mr. Howes, one of the best looking men of the 1920s, still looks terrific, if a bit stiff in his talking sequences, and reminds one at times of the Donna Reed Show's Carl Betz. Monte Blue does his usual good work. Mr. Brix isn't bad, but the camera hasn't settled on that face as of yet, while Fontaine gives more hints of her future worth than could be found in any of her early RKO vehicles.
I find it interesting seeing films by future stars and occasionally you can't even tell it's them! Take, for example, Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine. Both were born and raised abroad and had decidedly non-American accents in their early films. Moreover, they underwent HUGE makeovers--with new hair styles, makeup...everything. Both these women also have an odd connection--two of their earliest films were made with American Olympians. In "Search for Beauty", Ida is cast along side Buster Crabbe (winner of three medals for swimming, two of which were golds) and here in "A Million to One" Joan is cast along side Herman Brix (Bruce Bennett) who won Olympic silver for the shot-put. While both are very cheap films and their acting isn't particularly distinguished, both are must-sees for old movie buffs.
This film begins at the 1912 Olympics. John Kent won the Decathalon--only to have it soon stripped away on a technicality*. Then, John uses his energy to raise his son, Johnny (Herman Brix), to eventually be an Olympic decathletes as well. Unfortunately, during his training, he meets Joan (Joan Fontaine) and the father is worried she'll be a distraction and ruin Johnny's chances for Olympic gold.
This film was distributed by Puritan Pictures which means that the picture is about as low budget and cheap as can be. Several scenes were extremely poor acted--so poor that you marvel that they didn't bother re-filming these scenes. One example is the guy playing the newspaper editor, as he could barely deliver his lines and honestly sounds like a middle schooler trying to act! Another is the fight scene as both look completely inept and it is laughably done. A consultant should have been used as the pair look like they are dancing more than fighting! The movie also lacks incidental music and is curiously quiet at times. Clearly this film is a B---and a very low budgeted and cheaply assembled one.
So despite these problems, is the film any good? Not especially. Brix and Fontaine were not yet polished actors and the script is rather pedestrian. It's rarely terrible but also rarely very good. But still, worth watching so you can see Joan with her much more British accent and odd pre-makeover look. It's hard to imagine looking at her that only a few years later she'd win the Oscar for Best Actress! a5c7b9f00b
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