Le Million (1931) Director: Rene Claire
Le Million (The Million) is a beautiful little French film. It is one of Claire’s most celebrated films, along with his other musical comedies, Under the Roofs of Paris, and A nous la liberte.
It 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 left his winning lottery ticket in his jacket, 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. 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 opera man 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.
Although he was initially skeptical of the new sound medium in film, Claire eventually succumbed to “talkies” and made several celebrated French musicals, including Le Million. He was a popular film director in his day, 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, Claire was the great French surrealist.
Le Million is a delightful and fun film, with a simple plot – following one man track down his coat all over Paris. It is an excellent film and may be Rene Claire’s best.