Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Beware Greeks bearing gifts

Perhaps James Stewart should have heeded the above advice in The Jackpot, airing June 4 at 10:30 AM on the Fox Movie Channel. Stewart plays a middle manager in a department store in a small Midwestern town. One day after work, he gets a phone call out of the blue -- a radio network asks if he listens to their quiz show "Name the Mystery Husband", and is told that if he can solve the riddle of the mystery husband on that night's program, he has the chance to win the $24,000 jackpot. Excited by the possibility of winning the jackpot, Stewart and his wife (Barbara Hale) enlist help, in the form of the local newspaperman (played by James Gleason), who uses his connections in New York City to try to figure out who the mystery husband is. (The fact that this is cheating is completely overlooked by the movie's writers.)

Stewart does win the jackpot, but unfortunately for him, the jackpot turns out to be $24,000 of mostly useless merchandise. It's not as bad as the ceramic dalmatians (courtesy of Ranger Ian) that contestants had to buy back when "Wheel of Fortune" had shopping after each round, but it's still pretty bad. There's a female portrait artist (Patricia Medina), of whom Hale becomes jealous; Stewart becomes jealous of a home-makeover interior designer (played by Alan Mowbray) who hates everything in the house, including some of the new merchandise he won. Worse, though, is the fact that Stewart will have to pay taxes on his winnings. The only way he can do this is to try to sell some of the merchandise he doesn't want, which also causes problems: unbelievably, Stewart is dumb enough to try to sell some of the prizs on the side at the department store where he works. And then there's a "buyer" in Chicago recommended by Gleason who turns out to be a fence....

The Jackpot is a pleasant comedy, but it's not much more than that. Watch out for Stewart and Hale's two kids, though: they're played by a young Natalie Wood, and Tommy Rettig (later of "Lassie"). It's not available on DVD, which is a bit of a surprise for a movie starring James Stewart.

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