The 1977 film Mr. Billion tells the story of Gudio Falcone (played by Terence Hill, whose real name is Mario Girotti). Guido has got a pretty good life going in Italy. Everyone in his village loves him. He works as an auto mechanic. When we first see him, he speeding around in a red sportscar. When he returns to the garage, he smiles and says, in Italian, “Just like Steve McQueen.” Guido may not be rich but he’s happy.
But that’s all about change!
Well, not the happy part. Guido is pretty much always happy. But he’s about to get rich. It turns out that Guido is the last surviving relative of Antonio Falcone. Years ago, Antonio immigrated to America and founded Falcon Motors. The company eventually made Antonio one of the richest men in the world. Unfortunately, the big Falcon Motors sign eventually fell off the company’s headquarters and it landed right on top of Antonio.
Everyone’s upset about Antonio’s death. Well, everyone but the company’s vice president, John Cutler (Jackie Gleason). John was naturally expecting that he would be named Antonio’s successor and that he would also inherit all of Antonio’s money. Instead, Antonio’s will leaves everything to Guido!
Because, apparently, Guido never asked Antonio for anything more than a “pair of American cowboy boots.”
Cutler and his sleazy attorney (William Redfield) are soon on the next flight to Italy. When they find Guido, they make sure to compliment him on his cowboy boots. They explain to Guido that he has twenty days to go San Francisco and sign the proper papers. If he’s any later than 20 days he’ll lose the money. Of course, that shouldn’t be a problem since Guido can fly over anytime that he wants…
Except Guido refuses to fly! No, he says that if he’s going to go to America, he’s going to arrive there the same way that Antonio did. He is going to take a boat to New York City and then ride a train all the way to California.
Did you guess that the very next scene would be Guido standing on the dock of a cruise ship, staring at the Statue of Liberty? And did you also also guess that, upon disembarking, he would immediately find himself besieged by reporters, one of whom declares him to now be the world’s most eligible bachelor? If so, good work.
But here’s the big question. Did you also predict that John Cutler would attempt to sabotage Guido’s trip to California and that the sabotage would involve hiring a private detective (Valerie Perrine)? Even more importantly, did you predict that the detective would eventually end up falling in love with simple but honest Guido?
Because that’s totally what happens!
At the time that Mr. Billion was made, Terence Hill was a huge star in Europe but was barely known in the United States. He was best known for appearing in a series of comedic Spaghetti Westerns with Bud Spencer, the majority of which featured Hill as a lazy but likable ne’er do well. In Mr. Billion, Hill is cast as the exact opposite, as an earnest man-of-the-people who is so nice that it’s almost painful. Add to that some major tone problems (the film cannot make up its mind if it wants to be a comedy, an action film, or a romance) and you have a pretty forgettable movie.
And that’s kind of a shame because Terence Hill showed some legitimate charm in the lead role. The role may have been underwritten but all Hill had to do is flash that winning smile and it didn’t matter. It’s unfortunate that Hill didn’t get a more appropriate vehicle for his American debut.