Title: Le Million
Genre: Musical, Comedy
Director/Writer: René Clair
based on the play of Georges Berr and Marcel Guillemaud
Georges Van Parys
French tastemaker René Clair’s early talkie, LE MILLION sees him tackle with an archetypal musical experiment, intelligently weaves diegetic aural accompaniment (three composers are involved) into its caper plot, a tuneful piano piece here, a melodious chorus emerging inside a character’s head there, and a large chunk of the farce is circumscribed inside a theater where LES BOHÉMINES is on to boot.
The plot is a no-brainer, Michel Bouflette (Lefèvre), a down-and-out artist, albeit of being assailed by debtors (butcher, grocer etc.), he is still inclined to cop a feel with a hussy Vanda (Gréville), which ruffles the feathers of his fiancée Béatrice (Annabella). When his friend Prosper (Allibert, devilish handsome) delivers him the thrilling news that they have won the lottery for one million Dutch florins, only to their dismay, the lottery ticket is inside Michel’s jacket which has been given away to a criminal mastermind Grandpa Tulip (Ollivier) by Béatrice.
So the rest of the story is a race to trace the whereabout of the jacket and try to reclaim the ticket, from Grand Tulip’s shop, a camouflage for his unlawful business, to a stint in the police office (where Prosper turns Janus-faced), then the opera theater where a tenor Ambrosio Sporanelli (Siroesco) decides to wear the said jacket to perform in public. It is a cat-and-mouse knockabout between team Michael and team Prosper, both are aided by a female sidekick (Béatrice and Vanda respectively), which is a common trope being played again and again ad nauseam, even. While a third party, namely Grandpa Tulip’s men, also lay their hands on the jacket, not for the lottery, surprisingly, but to reciprocate the kindness to whom Grandpa Tulip is beholden, which means a celebratory ending!
Clair has a distinguished flair in sublimating Parisian cityscape for audience’s admiration and a dab-hand who can infuse alluring sophistication into the film’s chipper comedic agility and timing, the cast is animated and gung-ho, to a point of betraying an impression of self-awareness, as if to reaffirm their rapt viewers that it is a show for laughter, all in all, a brilliantly maneuvered divertissement throbbing with elation and kinetics.