Available at Amazon.com
Tom Bosley….Sidney Preston
Rich Hall….Slaughter Buzzard
Kevin Pollak….Officer Quinn
Rick Overton….Stuart Briggs
DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group & Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Million Dollar Movie. Screenplay by Rudy De Luca, Tim Metcalfe and Miguel Tejada-Flores. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated PG. Theatrical Release: June 12, 1987. DVD released Jan. 2, 2007.
There are certain movies of the ’80s that still haunt my eyes. Oddly enough, Million Dollar Mystery is not one of them. It opened and swiftly died. Producing legend Dino DeLaurentiis devised a gimmick so one lucky viewer could win a million dollars. A majority of moviegoers determined that a shot at being rich wasn’t worth 94 minutes of their lives. They bought tickets for Predator and Witches of Eastwick which also opened that Friday. If anyone had a hankering to get rich, they bought a lottery ticket that weekend. And so Million Dollar Mystery vanished without even grossing a million dollars. Was it a crime to overlook this movie?
The film aspires to be an updated version of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. A government official goes on the run with $4 million dollars in bribes. He shows up at an Arizona greasy spoon and drops dead during his meal. Before he passes away, he gives the patrons a clue to where he stashed his loot. And that incites a cross country treasure hunt from a cast of kookie characters. There’s plenty of lame action that’s been used in every Cannonball Run movie. Each time the mob gets close to the cash, something goes horribly wrong thanks to comic moments of greed. There are a few funny moments including a station wagon melting.
Million Dollar Mystery lacks the major star power that made that insane cash chase films entertaining. Mad World had Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts and anybody else who wasn’t booked for an episode of Gunsmoke. The closest thing to a comedy star in Million Dollar Mystery is Rich Hall who lasted a single season on Saturday Night Live. He gets stuck playing a nutty Vietnam vet working security on land above underground missile bases. The second most famous “comic star” in the film is the immortal annoying Eddie Deezen. You might remember him as the nerd in Grease and Grease 2. There’s one final notable actor in the film: Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame. Tom was the spokesman for Glad Trash Bags, the sponsor of the million dollar contest.
There are two rising comic stars in the movie. Tommy Sledge uses his film noir gumshoe humor for a minor giggle. He would host a show on The Comedy Channel. Kevin Pollak is a police officer who attacks crime with his nightclub schtick. He impersonates Shanter, Columbo, Dudley Moore and other stars that were smart enough to not answer the phone when the casting agents called.
It would be easy to write off this film as work of hacks, but there’s true talent behind the camera. Director Richard Fleischer helmed Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Soyent Green and Mr. Majestyk. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff won an Oscar for Black Narcissus and directed Sons and Lovers. Here’s two cinematic legends stuck cranking out a Glad Trash Bag contest for Dino DeLaurentiis. Million Dollar Mystery is that harsh reality where cinematic art ends.
The film doesn’t even end. The greedy pack discovers only three million dollars. Two detectives inform the audience that using clues from the film, they can locate the last million and win it! In case you’re wondering, the money has been won. You can look it up on the internet in case you want to play at home.
Million Dollar Mystery is essential viewing for students of bad ’80s cinema. But if you’re looking to be entertained, you’re better off going with the original Mad World or either Cannonball Run. At the end of this treasure hunt, you’re stuck with a bag of rocks instead of a lucky ticket.
The picture is 2.35:1 anamorphic. While the picture transfer is clean, there’s a lot of grain. The flesh tones are rather pale. This is not Jack Cardiff’s finest moment.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital Ultrasound. It’s not the sweetest of mixes. But it works for the synthpop soundtrack. There are no subtitles, but it is closed captioned.
The Trailer (1:53) allows you to see how they pushed the concept of a viewer winning a million dollars. It’s just a shame they didn’t include a reproduction of the original entry form.