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Literature / Brewster's Millions

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"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 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 1985 film, the original inheritance is $30 million and the full inheritance is $300 million.) 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.


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 

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 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 It's Punky Brewster.


Brewster's Millions provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 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 full inheritance to the charities chosen by Brewster's benefactor as alternative beneficiaries. In the 2016 film, they do worse by embezzling part of the money that's supposed to be donated to charity and holding Brewster's counterpart accountable for the missing money. Fortunately, the accomplices in the latter film 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. (In the 1985 film, the "escape clause" is worth $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).
  • Artistic License – Law: This is particularly evident in the Richard Pryor film adaptation. When the time is just about up, and Brewster is about to lose all the money because the lawyers of the firm conspired to manipulate events just so that would happen, there's a tense scene where a paralegal has to write him a receipt for all the money he has left as services rendered. There's only seconds left, and she completes the receipt a split-second before the clock runs out, handing it to the attorney (Pat Hingle) who's been brought in to oversee the process and make certain everything goes according to the will. This attorney says all the conditions have been satisfied and the money is now Brewster's. Then he tells the crooked lawyers that he feels that there has been a crime committed by them (Conspiracy to Defraud) and he will have to order a full investigation. The crooked lawyers have collective Oh, Crap! expressions on their faces. The problem is, considering the circumstances there was absolutely no need for the receipt to be written and handed to him before time ran out. A crime has been committed, and as soon as the attorney (who was clearly sympathetic to Brewster throughout the film) realized that he would have been perfectly within his rights to declare Brewster the victor regardless of whether time ran out or not, or he could have suspended everything until such time as the investigation was complete. He was brought in to oversee the entire process, it's his responsibility to make certain all the conditions of the will are met fairly, and if he feels that anything suspicious is happening he can call time out anytime he likes.
    • The problem is what would happen to the money. By allowing Brewster the chance to spend the $20,000 and fulfilling the will, Brewster gets the money immediately. If Roundfield had suspended the terms of the will to investigate charges of fraud, the money would continue to be held in trust until the ensuing criminal and civil investigations and trials are resolved which would likely last years. Even if Monty didn't beat the clock, Roundfield would have ordered an investigation into the fraud with the same result.
      • Effectively, the attorney knows full well the money is Monty's, no argument, so just lets the money be released to Brewster, THEN starts freezing assets. Monty likely left the money effectively in trust ANYWAY, but he still has proof, for the people he had to lie to, that he had a reason for his terrible attitude towards all the things they did for him.
    • Angela, a non-lawyer, cannot legally accept a fee for representing Monty in court. Even if she could, she would not be able to perform the service she is promising to perform in exchange for the fee (defend Monty in court against Warren's lawsuit) — thus, Monty just violated one of the terms of the will by hiring someone without getting value for her services. Leaving those issues aside, Monty was paying someone IN ADVANCE for services to be performed in the future. His right to receive those services in the future (or obtain a refund upon her failure to perform) would be considered an asset.
  • Bail Equals Freedom: Subverted in the 1985 film. Brewster and his best friend are arrested for a bar fight and 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 wouldn't be able to afford either option.
  • Brick Joke: In the 1985 film, Monty is told that, after the thirty days, he can only have the clothes on his back or he loses the challenge. When the challenge ends, Brewster puts on the same baseball uniform he was wearing before the challenge started.
  • The Cameo: In the 1985 film, Rick Moranis puts in a brief appearance as "Morty King, King of the Mimics."
  • Casual Sports Jersey: Exaggerated. When Monty is due to meet with the lawyers that control his deceased relative's inheritance in their boardroom, he wears his jersey and his cap.
  • 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: the will offers Brewster a million dollars with no strings attached, but as it's a "wimp" clause, he'd have to walk 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: This is the case from Brewster's point of view when the hare-brained business schemes he invests in end up making tidy profits.
  • Hidden Depths: In the 1985 film, Brewster comes across at first as a working-class schmuck, a minor-league baseball player with little money or prospects. Brewster's Uncle Rupert states openly that he's disappointed in Brewster but has to name Brewster in the will because, "I'm stuck with you." But as time goes on, Brewster finds more and more creative ways to waste money, from financing an expensive exhibition game to buying a rare stamp and then mailing it, to buying a supply of expensive wine and opening the bottles and serving them. When he has a serious setback and thinks he has no chance of making the deadline, he comes up with a perfect way to drain his bank account — run for Mayor and spend through the roof on his campaign.
  • 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 film, Brewster flies his minor-league baseball team in on helicopters for a press event before an exhibition game between the team and the New York Yankees (which Brewster paid to make happen). The coach says 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—but Brewster says 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.note 
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Angela does this in the 1985 film.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: James T. Sedgwick
  • Mythology Gag: In the 1985 film, Brewster must spend thirty million dollars instead of just one, but the original amount is referenced by the "wimp" clause (see Consolation Prize above). In the original book, the million dollars Monty 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: 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 1985 film, Brewster finds a loophole to purchasing assets: he buys a rare stamp, then uses it to mail a letter. Since he used the stamp for its intended purpose, he technically didn't give it away or destroy it.
      • 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—mainly because the position's salary would be considered an asset derived from the inheritance.
      • One of the things that would have really screwed him over had he not caught on to it right away was revealed when he went to the bank to deposit the thirty million. The bank manager cheerfully tells him that the amount of the deposit means that Brewster qualifies for a "special interest rate" on his account. In other words, he would have been earning money just by depositing it in the bank. Brewster quickly turns down the interest and insists that he should be paying the bank for the privilege of depositing his money with them.
    • 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.
  • 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: 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.
  • No Ending: The movie just ends leaving only the viewer to interpret what became of Brewster after he won the full $300mill.
    • It also never explains what happened to the law firm who were planning to effectively abuse the bet to steal the money.
  • 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!: This is 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 even get into the challenge.
  • Race Lift: The 1985 film features 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, Rupert Horn, says he was given a Radish Cure by his father to discourage a possible smoking habit. Horn used this experience as motivation for creating Monty's challenge. And since nobody helped Rupert with the Radish Cure, he forced Brewster to avoid telling his friends about the condition (as they'd help Brewster win the challenge).
  • Random Events Plot: The novel and its adaptations follow a series of various humorous attempts to get rid of an exorbitant amount of money in a short amount of 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. The law firm overseeing the will brings him in to make sure the will's details 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.
    • In the 1985 film, he casually mentions that the deadline is midnight on the last 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.
      • Fridge Brilliance kicks in there. Roundfield is likely planning some very expensive and very complex legal proceedings about irregularities in the challenge. But Monty was completely above the level. He walks away with 300 mil in the bank. The people still in the room... They'll not get ANY sleep.
  • 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, is one of these in the original novel.
  • Silly Will: This is the general plot of the book, but the 1985 movie picks up this trope and runs with it.
  • 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: The video will in the 1985 film invokes this brilliantly, as the editing makes it seem 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!"
    • This is one of the aspects where the 2016 film "Tô Ryca!" is similar to the Pryor version.
  • 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. 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 reveals the deposit Brewster forgot about on a furniture rental to cheer Monty 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 safe to assume they'll be set for the foreseeable future with the hundreds of thousands of dollars Brewster was paying them, though. And the film outright shows Spike becoming a multi-millionaire thanks to the salary Brewster paid him and several commissions and investments.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: In the 1985 film, two lawyers at the firm representing Brewster's great-uncle try to cheat Brewster out of his inheritance so they can earn a rather sizeable fee from the full $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. Brewster punches the accountant who was bribed by the partners into defrauding 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: This is excusable to make it easy for the audience in the 1985 film. People around Brewster tell him repeatedly that he has wasted thirty million dollars when he has had at least ten million added onto that total. Saying "forty million" would be more accurate. But the audience is in on the bet, so the film avoids possible confusion by only using the "thirty million" number.

Alternative Title(s): Brewsters Millions


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