Literature: Brewster's Millions

I believe in being honest, Brewster. No bullshit. I'm stuck with you. But... we're gonna have some fun.

Brewster's Millions is a novel written by George Barr McCutcheon in 1902, although it's arguably more well known for various adaptations that have been made since. The basic story revolves around an impoverished young man by the name of Monty Brewster, who inherits a substantial amount of money from a long-lost relative — and stands to further inherit a huge additional amount. (The total sum varies by time period, but to fit the title, it's always in the millions; in the Richard Pryor version, the original inheritance is $30 million and the full inheritance is $300 million.) The will specifies one catch, however: Monty must waste the entire first amount in a limited period of time. He must end the challenge with no tangible assets whatsoever and keep the arrangement a secret from everyone else. Monty will win the full inheritance if he pulls it off, but if he breaks any of the rules or fails to spend the first amount in full, he inherits nothing.

As Monty feverishly starts hemorraging money as quick as possible, he soon realizes the truth of the matter: it's amazingly difficult to lose an incredible amount of money.

The novel has been adapted for the screen nine times. The most famous film version remains the 1985 film starring Richard Pryor and John Candy; the story had been adapted before in 1921, 1926 (with the protagonist changed to a woman), 1935, 1945, and 1961. A Hindi version produced in 1988 serves as a shot-by-shot Indianization of the 1985 film, and a Tamil version was produced in 1997. A play based on the story was created in 1906. The plot of this novel also formed the basis of an episode of It's Punky Brewster.

Brewster's Millions provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: The condition for the inheritence is meant to be a lesson to Brewster so that he avoids this trope with the real fortune.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • In the 1914 film, James Sedgwick becomes Jonas Sedgwick.
    • In the 1926 film, Montgomery Brewster becomes Polly Brewster.
    • In the 1945 film, Brewster's given name is changed from Montgomery to Montague.
    • In the 1985 film, Edwin Peter Brewster and James T. Sedgwick become a Composite Character named Rupert Horn.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original book, nobody tries to cheat Brewster out of the titular millions. In the 1985 film, the lawyers in charge of executing the will try to make Brewster lose the challenge so they can collect a fee for distributing the 300 million dollars to the charities chosen by Brewster's benefactor as alternative beneficiaries.
  • All or Nothing: The terms of the will force Brewster to either win everything or walk away with nothing. Many of the adaptations, however, add an "escape clause" that allows still Monty to claim a very small percentage of the inheritance in exchange for not having to go through with the challenge and with no further obligation, but that's all he gets. (In the 1985 film, the "escape clause" money was $1 million). In the book, the million came from another benefactor and Brewster could have simply kept that inheritance instead of risking it for a chance to receive a bigger one.
  • Amoral Attorney: The lawyers in the 1985 film fall under this trope, as they're actively plotting to cheat Brewster out of his inheritance.
  • Animated Adaptation: Although no direct adaptations of the story itself have been made, the It's Punky Brewster episode "Punky's Millions" essentially takes the basic plot of this story and runs with it (with a few alterations, such as the cash amount becoming a game-show prize rather than an inheritance).
  • Bail Equals Freedom: Subverted in the Pryor film. Brewster and his best friend are arrested for a bar fight and are given a choice between posting bail and showing up later for a trial or pleading guilty and paying a fine. If not for the lawyers looking for Brewster to inform him about an Unexpected Inheritance, they'd not be able to afford either option.
  • Brick Joke: In the Pryor film, when they said that, after the 30 days, all that will be left for Monty are the clothes on his back, they weren't kidding. Brewster had to put on the same baseball uniform that he was wearing before the challenge.
  • Composite Character: In the original book, the titular millions and the money Brewster must spend to inherit them don't come from the same benefactor.
  • Consolation Prize: The 1985 film combines this with a reference to the original story, as the will offers a "wimp" clause for Brewster — taking it would give him an even million dollars with no strings attached, but he'd be forced to walking away from the challenge.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Angela Drake (in the 1985 film) subverts this trope; she shows a softer side when Brewster begins to act more charitably, but her overall personality never truly changes, and she doesn't enter into a relationship with Brewster despite his best efforts.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Brewster's benefactor plays it straight, while Brewster himself merely invokes the trope, since he only appears to be extremely eccentric.
  • Gender Flip: The version(s) where Brewster is a woman.
  • Jerkass Fašade: Brewster may be a decent and good-hearted man, but since he can't tell anyone why he's doing what he's doing, he frequently comes off as an irresponsible jackass.
  • Just Between You and Me: In the 1985 film, Warren Cox spills the beans about the fix to Angela Drake in this manner; she then quickly informs Monty.
  • Just for the Heli of It: In the 1985 Richard Pryor film version, Brewster flies his minor-league baseball team in on helicopters for a press event before an exhibition game he has paid for between the team and the New York Yankees. The coach calls him on it, saying that the team will be tired after the trip which was completely unnecessary because they're just over in New Jersey and could've gotten there faster on the bus. Brewster counters that he did it to make an impression - he doesn't mention that he did it so he could spend more money (to fulfill the challenge to spend a large sum of money and have nothing tangible to show for it).
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Angela does this in the 1985 film.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Montgomery Brewster's maternal Uncle James T. Sedgwick.
  • Mythology Gag: In the 1985 film, Brewster must spend 30 million instead of just one but the original amount is referenced by a clause stating he'll receive one million dollars with no strings attached if he doesn't accept the challenge. In the original book, the million he must spend to inherit the titular millions came from another benefactor and had no condition to prevent him from deciding to keep that money.
  • On One Condition: It's a doozy of a condition.
    • A few smaller conditions come with it, but they're meant to avoid Loophole Abuse: Brewster can't have any assets after the challenge (except for anything he owned before it began), he can't tell anyone what he's doing or why, he must get value for the services of anyone he hires, he can only spend a predetermined small percentage on charities and gambling, and he can't buy expensive goods and then destroy them or give them away to avoid having assets.
      • In the 1985 film, Brewster finds a loophole to purchasing assets: he buys a rare stamp, then uses it to mail a letter. Since he used it for its intended purpose, he technically didn't give it away or destroy it.
      • If Brewster refuses the challenge, he'll receive one million dollars without having to fulfill any further conditions.
      • He also buys several bottles of rare, expensive wine and drinks them (original intended purpose); rents his old AAA ball club and fixes up the park for an exhibition game with the Yankees (improving a rented property), and books local TV time on his own dime, to protest both mayoral candidates (legitimate value for service). When the people want to elect him, he declines because the position's salary would be considered an asset derived from the inheritance.
    • In the original book, Montgomery Brewster must be completely broke by the time he becomes twenty-six years old; must not tell anyone about the inheritance until the day he receives it; must not give away the whole inheritance (may donate as much as other wealthy people do but nothing more); and somehow must show business skills. James T. Sedgwick didn't want his heir to have anything from Edwin P. Brewster and believed Edwin would be remembered if Montgomery donated all the money inherited from him.
      • The million Montgomery inherited from Edwin before being informed of James' challenge averts this because Edwin trusted his grandson to use the inheritance a way he'd approve.
    • Some acquaintances of the late Edwin P. Brewster, not knowing why his grandson was squandering the inheritance, were entertaining the idea of imposing conditions to their heirs.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The 1985 film features crooked lawyers who are trying to screw Brewster out of the deal. The junior partner of the firm "fixes" things twice: first, he informs Brewster's paralegal of the true nature of the inheritance (since Brewster isn't the one who tells her, the conditions of the will are not breached), then he threatens to sue after Brewster punches him in the face. Because the deadline had not yet been reached, Brewster hires his now-aware paralegal and uses all of the money that he had left over as a retainer fee. If that junior partner had just kept his mouth shut for a few more minutes, Brewster would have lost. (In addition, said lawyer was not supposed to have known about the deal, which meant Brewster would have won by default anyway.)
  • Nice to the Waiter: Brewster's generosity earns him the admiration of his many employees, but this only means they want to help him when he starts going under.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: This trope seems to kick in for Brewster right when he doesn't want it to.
  • Plot-Triggering Death
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: How Monty's great-uncle concludes the Video Will in the 1985 film.
    Rupert Horn: [You] can go for the big one, Brewster. The three hundred million. But if you fail ... you don't. Get. DIDDLY!
  • Race Against the Clock: This happens for most of the story, but in the 1985 film, it's openly invoked in the final scene as Angela writes a receipt for her services as a lawyer before the clock strikes midnight.
    • This trope applies twice in the Animated Adaptation, as the characters are forced to face one to get into the challenge in the first place.
  • Race Lift: Richard Pryor as Brewster, which leads to this line from Rupert: "What's the matter? Didn't know your great-uncle was a honky?"
  • Radish Cure: Giving someone millions of dollars and forcing them to spend it all within a short period of time might make them sick to the back teeth of both money and spending it. In the 1985 film, Monty's uncle says his father employed a Radish Cure to discourage him from smoking, which served as his motivation to force Monty to spend $30 million in 30 days — and to forbid Brewster from telling his friends about the condition (since they'd help Brewster to fulfill the condition, and nobody helped Brewster's uncle with the smoking).
  • Random Events Plot: The novel and all its adaptations follow a series of various humorous attempts to get rid of an exorbitant amount of money in a short time.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Edward Roundfield (played by Pat Hingle in the 1985 movie) officially acts as an independent observer with no claim or stake in the bet; he's brought in by the law firm to ensure the details of the will are carried out to the letter. He makes a point of being impartial, but in practice, he's clearly fond of Brewster and more sympathetic to his dilemma, since Brewster's a down-to-earth nice guy.
    • He even casually mentions that the deadline is midnight on the 30th day, then accepts the final receipt for the last $20,000 as the midnight chimes are ringing on the clock he'd earlier glanced at.
  • The Resenter: Brewster's Uncle James' primary reason for the conditions set in the latter's will and the estrangement between the two characters in the book. James hated Brewster's grandfather Edwin to the point he loathed living in the same town as Edwin and wanted to be sure his estate would never mix with Edwin's.
  • Secret Test of Character: Subverted. When Montgomery Brewster told his loved one about the inheritance, she had initially assumed he kept it a secret to test her until he told her he had to keep the inheritance a secret until the day he became 26 years old.
  • Self-Made Man: Monty's uncle, James T. Sedgwick, is one of these in the original novel.
  • Silly Will: The plot of the 1985 movie. Brewster inherits 30 million dollars, 10% of the estate, he must spend all of it within a month. The hurdle is that he can't acquire assets, donate, or simply throw the money away, and nobody else may know what he's doing. He spends the movie hiring assistants, renting hotels, and baffling his friends who think money drove him insane.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Brewster tries to blow a load of money by betting on longshots, but the longshots storm home and make him even more money. When he tries to lose money by investing in a worthless stock, the stock's value skyrockets after everyone else buys in. In the 1985 film, he tries to waste it on a frivolous political campaign, but the voters are attracted to his message and almost vote for him (which would have left him with a job and a salary, thus nullifying the inheritance), so Monty convinces people to vote for "None of the Above" and eventually drops out of the race.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Brewster's great-uncle's video will in the 1985 film invokes this brilliantly; the editing makes it appear as if the two are sharing a direct back-and-forth dialogue.
    Rupert Horn: (in the video will) "So, here's my proposition: you have thirty days in which to spend thirty million bucks. If you can do it, you get three hundred million!"
    Monty Brewster: (to himself) "There's gotta be a catch."
    Rupert Horn: "Of course there's a catch!"
  • Title Drop: At some point in the original book, when Montgomery Brewster was quite close to receiving "Sedgwick's Millions", he said they'd soon become "Brewster's Millions".
  • Unexpected Inheritance: In the book, the titular millions come from an uncle that was absent from Brewster's life for so long that Brewster barely remembered him. In the 1985 film, they come from a relative he didn't even know before being informed of the inheritance.
    • The million dollars Brewster must spend to inherit Uncle James' estate averted this because that inheritance came from his non-estranged grandfather.
  • Unwanted Rescue: Since Brewster can't tell his friends why he's trying to lose money, they frequently engage in well-meaning attempts to stem the flow by investing or saving it sensibly, much to Brewster's dismay. This is subverted by an accountant who cheerfully reveals the deposit Brewster forgot about on a furniture rental, seemingly to cheer him up (the accountant subverts this by virtue of setting up the forgotten deposit in order to help the amoral bankers cheat Monty out of the inheritance).
  • Video Wills: Brewster's great-uncle uses one to deliver his challenge in the 1985 film.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The 1985 film ends abruptly, so viewers never find out what happened to any of Brewster's former friends or employees. It's probably safe to assume they'll be set for the foreseeable future with the hundreds of thousands of dollars Brewster was paying them (and the film outright shows Spike becoming a multi-millionaire thanks to the ultra-exorbitant salary Brewster paid him and several commissions and investments).
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: In the 1985 film, two partners of the law firm that represents Brewster's great-uncle try to cheat Brewster out of his inheritance so the firm will inherit the estate (which would net the partners a rather sizeable fee from the $300 million before it's divided up to various charities). As time runs out on Brewster's chance to earn the inheritance, Angela informs Monty of the scheme; this causes Brewster to punch the accountant who was bribed by the partners into attempting to defraud Brewster. When threatened with a lawsuit, Brewster retains Angela as his lawyer for $20,000 (the exact amount of money keeping him from earning his inheritance) and gets a receipt written for the amount — completing the challenge and earning his inheritance — just as the clock strikes midnight.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Excusable to make it easy for the audience in the 1985 film. People around him tell him repeatedly that he has wasted 30 million dollars when he has had at least 10 million added onto that total and saying "40 million" would be more accurate. The audience, however, is in on the bet and some may be confused by the differing amounts thrown around.
  • You Have 48 Hours: A literal case in the Animated Adaptation. Punky Brewster and her friends had exactly 48 hours to spend one million dollars in order to win forty million dollars. The one limitation, besides not keeping anything (fortunately, there was nothing preventing Punky from simply donating all stuff bought to charity), was not buying anything for more than ten thousand dollars per unit, thus nixing Margaux's idea of using the money to buy a villa.

Alternative Title(s):

Brewsters Millions