Le Million (1931) Director: René Clair
Le Million (The Million) is a beautiful little French film, one of René Clair’s best along with his other musical comedies, Under the Roofs of Paris, and À nous la liberté. The tone is delightful and fun, with a simple plot following one man as he tracks down his coat all over Paris because inside its pocket is a winning lottery ticket. Although he was initially skeptical of the new medium of sound film, Clair eventually succumbed to “talkies” and made several celebrated French musicals, of which Le Million was one. Today, Clair is a legend of French cinema, being the first film director elected to the prestigious Academie Francais in 1960, even before Jean Renoir. While Renoir was the great impressionist of film, Clair was the great French surrealist.
Le Million is a simple musical about a poor artist who is being chased by his various creditors all over Paris, including his landlord and the milkman. Suddenly, his fate changes when he wins the lottery – worth one million Dutch florins. However, he realizes that he has accidentally left his winning lottery ticket in his jacket pocket, and his fiancee Beatrice has given the jacket to a criminal robber to help him avoid the police. The bulk of the film follows the artist all over the city chasing down his jacket in all manner of delightful and amusing situations. At one point, he winds up in jail and his best friend Michel, pretends not to recognize him so he can find the winning ticket for himself. They eventually track it down to an opera house, and the jacket flies out the window and lands on a car. The artist decides to go home in a cab, but the jacket is resting on top of the car, unbeknownst to him. However, the man at the opera who had the jacket chases him down and reclaims the jacket, but ultimately gives the ticket to the artist. The film closes with a song and dance as they praise people who do not covet wealth.