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Literature / Brewster's Millions

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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 Monty Brewster, an impoverished young man who inherits a substantial amount of money from a long-lost relative and also stands to further inherit a huge additional amount. (The total sum varies by time period; to fit the title, it's always in the millions or more. In the original novel, Brewster has to spend one million to inherit seven millions.) But the inheritance has a catch: Monty must waste the entire first amount in a limited period of time. He must end the challenge with no tangible assets whatsoever, with severe limits on possible outs like charity or purchasing items...and keep the arrangement a secret from everyone else. Monty wins 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 gets nothing.

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As Monty starts hemorraging money as fast as he can, he soon realizes a horrible truth: it's amazingly difficult to lose an incredible amount of money.note 

In the novel, there are two benefactors: Edwin P. Brewster, who leaves our hero the original small fortune with no strings attached, and James T. Sedgwick, who challenges our hero to earn the big fortune by getting rid of the smaller one. Adaptations generally change it so that there's only one benefactor and the smaller fortune is only available on condition that the protagonist use it to try and win the big one.

The novel has been adapted for the screen nine times: the most famous film version remains the 1985 film starring Richard Pryor; 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 is a Shot-for-Shot Remake of the 1985 film; a Tamil version was produced in 1997; a play based on the story was created in 1906; and the novel's plot also formed the basis of an episode of Punky Brewster.

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The novel contains examples of:

  • All or Nothing: The terms of the will force Brewster to either win everything or walk away with nothing. 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.
  • Disposable Fiancée: Barbara Drew, Brewster's love interest at the beginning of the novel, rejects him after taking his spendthrift behavior at face value.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Brewster's benefactor plays it straight, while Brewster himself merely invokes the trope, since he only appears to be extremely eccentric.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: The challenge Brewster goes through for the full inheritance is meant as a lesson in how to avoid this trope.
  • Gone Horribly Right: This is the case from Brewster's point of view when the hare-brained business schemes he invests in end up making tidy profits.
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  • Mysterious Middle Initial: James T. Sedgwick
  • 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.
  • On One Condition: And it's a doozy of a condition.
    • A few smaller conditions come with it, but they're meant to prevent 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, then destroy them or give them away.
    • In the original book, 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 (though he can donate as much as other wealthy people do); 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, as Edwin trusted his grandson to use the inheritance in 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.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: This trope seems to kick in for Brewster right when he doesn't want it to.
  • Plot-Triggering Death
  • Random Events Plot: The novel follows a series of various humorous attempts to get rid of an exorbitant amount of money in a short amount of time.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The executor of the will. He was even willing to allow Brewster to spend on things like christmas presents, although he not without spending limits.
  • 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 where he loathed living in the same town) and wanted to be sure his estate would never mix with Edwin's.
  • Secret Test of Character: Subverted in the book. When Monty tells his loved one about the inheritance, she initially assumes he kept it a secret to test her—until he tells her he had to keep the inheritance a secret until the day he turned 26.
  • Self-Made Man: Monty's uncle, James T. Sedgwick, built his fortune in Montana, where he arrived with just a few thousands of dollars to his name and ended up owning some ranches and gold mines.
  • Silly Will: This is the general plot of the book.
  • 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.
  • Stealing from the Till: in the book one of Brewster’s friends/financial advisors guiltily confesses to this, not for his own gain, but in a failed in an attempt to invest for Brewster to save his money on account of how he kept spending it. Brewster has to fight hard to fight his ecstasy about how much money this got rid of as he assures the friend that he forgives him.
  • Title Drop: At some point in the original book, when 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. 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).
  • What You Are in the Dark: A lot of Brewsters friends stay by his side and keep trying to help him even as it becomes obvious that he's about to run out of money. Naturally, this borders on Unwanted Rescue for poor Brewster, although he is generally touched by the effort.

Adaptations with their own pages include:

Other adaptations add examples of:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: In the 2016 film "Tô Ryca!", Brewster's counterpart tries to lose $ 100,000 on the roulette by placing that money on 13. She wins.
  • Adaptational Heroism: in the original novel, Barbara Drew is a Disposable Fiancée, while in the 1945 film she is a sweet minor character who didn't even know Brewster before he inherited his money and is used by him to help spend the money (but does make his actual fiancé a little jealous).
  • 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 2016 film, Montgomery Brewster is a woman named Selminha Oleria Silva.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original book, nobody tries to cheat Brewster out of the titular millions. In the 2016 film, the lawyers in charge of executing the will embezzle part of the money that's supposed to be donated to charity and hold Brewster's counterpart accountable for the missing money. Fortunately, the accomplices have a change of heart and donate it on time.
  • All or Nothing: The terms of the will force Brewster to either win everything or walk away with nothing. Many of the adaptations add an "escape clause" that allows Monty to claim a very small percentage of the inheritance with no further obligation, but that's all he gets.
  • 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; Brewster's Uncle James hated Brewster's grandfather Edwin (to the point where he loathed living in the same town) and wanted to be sure his estate would never mix with Edwin's. James character and motivations are never quite the same in any of the adaptations, most of which have him and Brewster's grandfather merged into a composite character simply imparting a lesson.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Montgomery Brewster becomes a woman named Selminha Oleria Silva in the 2016 film.
  • Gender Flip: Any version where Brewster is a woman counts.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In the 1945 film, Brewster's two best friends/ financial advisors manage to salvage $40,000 from his failed ventures at the very last minute, causing him to frantically think of debts to pay off to get rid of it as the clock strikes down.
  • Lighter and Softer: Given that the original novel has Brewster's ship being attacked by marauding African warriors who he and his men gun down, all of the adaptations become this by default for omitting this bloody scene.
  • Returning War Vet: Brewster and several of his friends in the 1945 version.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: The video will in the 2016 film "Tô Ryca!".


Alternative Title(s): Brewsters Millions

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