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Excess wealth has always been a rich topic for comedy because the power to act on any material whim tends to expose and even foreground people's foibles. Rollo Treadway, the lonely millionaire played by Buster Keaton in The Navigator (1924), is so spoiled he gets his chauffeur to ferry him to a house across the street. In the Depression-era fantasy If I Had a Million (1932), W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth, whose treasured automobile has been totaled by a road hog, use a sudden financial windfall to buy a fleet of cars and purposely smash them into the autos of inconsiderate drivers. Even sophisticated comedies milk this idea: in Born Yesterday (1950), a millionaire junk dealer hires a journalist to turn his gum-cracking mistress into a Washington socialite. Wealth is more concentrated than ever now, which means the comedy of buying power still packs a mighty punch: just this spring the wacky Welcome to Me starred Kristen Wiig as a bipolar woman who wins $86 million in the lottery and decides to launch her own self-obsessive TV talk show. Continue reading >>

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