Le Million (1931)
"Le Million" sees director René Clair at the peak of his fame and powers. Encompassing as many genre as needed to get an entertaining movie, he crafts a short and convoluted movie about greed. Maybe I'm being a little harsh, but the end moral of the movie doesn't ring true of everyday heroism, nonetheless "Le Million" is fun.
The movie opens with a celebration, a great festival full of drinking and dancing. Two men crawl over the rooftops to see what the fuss is all about. In song, with arms around each other, the crowd tells the tale...
Painter Michel (René Lefèvre) is not exactly boyfriend material. He has the hots for one of his models and in the first scene we notice him, he's cozying up to her, even though he's engaged. He is interrupted three times while trying to put a move on her: by his friend, Prosper (Jean-Louis Allibert), by his fiancee Beatrice (Annabella), and by the butcher, to whom he owes money. In fact, it's not just the butcher to whom he is indebted. The grocer, the milk maid, the butcher, the taxi driver, they all are screwed over by a man who can't pay his bills.
A group of them have come to collect their money and they are dodged by Michel so a great chase begins.
Meanwhile, a criminal is escaping from the law. He runs over rooftops and ducks into buildings, trying to evade the police. Eventually he pops into Michel's building and some funny slapstick-type humor takes place as the two groups accidentally swap victims. Now the police are chasing Michel and the collectors are chasing the criminal.
The convict steps in Beatrice's apartment and begs her to help him, which she does either because she's really stupid or because she has a kind heart. After a little while, the criminal decides to leave, but he takes one of Michel's jackets with him, to better disguise himself from the police.
Downstairs, the collectors have finally gotten Michel cornered and they demand money from him; but Prosper has just read the newspaper and realized that Michel has won a million dollars from the lottery. Ecstatic and jubilant, Michel runs upstairs to look for his lottery ticket which has just walked away in his jacket.
Now the plot becomes "keeping up with the money". As Michel and Prosper get closer to finding the lottery ticket, somehow it just keeps slipping through the fingers in the most enjoyable and ever increasingly annoying ways.
We get taken to the police station, to the mafia, to the opera and back around again as the ticket floats from one pairs of hands to the other.
"Le Million" is escapism, pure and simple. It never tries to be above itself and it often indulges in the oddest sense of humor. A musical, a romance, a farce, and a lot of fun, "Le Million" set the standard for the comedy of errors in film for years to come. It's hard to duplicate this much charisma and joy.
The problem with the movie lies on the thematic side of it. As the ending fades away it leaves us unsatisfied because the good guy isn't good and the girl doesn't get a man she deserves. It's these small plot problems that keep "Le Million" from being a great movie in my mind; but it's not far away, regardless.
Posted by Micah Jones