Michel (René Lefèvre) is a struggling French artist who is in deep water with a multitude of creditors.
But Michel’s luck may soon change as he discovers that he picked the winning ticket for the Dutch lottery. A prize of one million florins awaits him as soon as he turns in the ticket.
There’s just one small problem: when Michel needs to search for the ticket in the pocket of his jacket, where he thought he’d left it, he learns that his fiancée Béatrice gave the jacket to an unfortunate stranger!
A mad goose chase begins as Michel tries to track down the jacket and retrieve the winning lottery ticket.
René Clair directs 1931’s Le million, a French musical/comedy which he also scripted. The film is based on a play by Georges Berr and Marcel Gillemaud. This play had previously been used as the basis of a silent film by T. N. Heffron in 1914.
This film has extremely high energy and a lot of the comedy plays as it would in a silent film. There are tons of sight gags and physical comedy.
Robert Osborne notes in his introduction that director Clair initially did not want to transition to sound and didn’t believe in using dialogue to tell a story, instead only using it to enhance certain scenes. By the time he made this film (his second talkie) he had warmed up to the idea a bit more, but the silent influence is sill heavily apparent here and brings a heck of a lot of fun to the film.
Le million is one of those films that just works. There isn’t a dull moment, the performances are great, the musical numbers are fun and there are plenty of laughs to be had. I credit this quite a bit to Clair since he seems to have had a lot of creative control over the film, but the whole cast and crew just work together wonderfully.
I feared that with such a simple and somewhat silly premise (a man chasing after a coat, essentially), the film would start out good but get dull as it moved along. However, the run time is kept fairly short (one hour, eleven minutes) and not a single second of it drags! There are tons of greedy side characters who help fuel the comedy and keep the film moving at an exciting pace.
Le million can easily be added to my list of favorite French films. The score: 5/5!