Michel, a Parisian artist, is being hounded by numerous impatient creditors. To make things worse, when he is embracing the woman whose portrait he is painting, he is surprised by his indignant fiancée Béatrice. Suddenly, Michel learns that he holds the winning ticket in the Dutch Lottery. But when he goes to retrieve the ticket from the pocket of his jacket, he finds that Béatrice has given the jacket to a stranger who was in need. Now everyone has a keen interest in finding that jacket. Written by
In Le Million, Rene Clair, one of the cinema's great directors and great pioneers, created a gem of light comedy which for all its lightness is a groundbreaking and technically brilliant film which clearly influenced subsequent film-makers such as the Marx Brothers, Lubitsch, and Mamoulian. The plot, a witty story of a poor artist who wins a huge lottery jackpot but has to search frantically all over town for the missing ticket, is basically just a device to support a series of wonderfully witty comic scenes enacted in a dream world of the director's imagination.
One of the most impressive things about this film is that, though it is set in the middle of Paris and includes nothing actually impossible, it achieves a sustained and involving fairy-tale/fantasy atmosphere, in which it seems quite natural that people sing as much as they talk, or that a tussle over a stolen jacket should take on the form of a football game. Another memorable element is that Le Million includes what may be the funniest opera ever put on film (O that blonde-braided soprano! "I laugh, ha! ha!") Also a delight is the casting: Clair has assembled a group of amazing, sharply different character actors, each of them illustrating with deadly satiric accuracy a bourgeois French "type," so that the film seems like a set of Daumier prints come to life.
The hilarity takes a little while to get rolling, and I found the characters not as emotionally engaging as they can be even in a light comedy (as they are, for instance, in many Lubitsch films.) For these reasons I refrained from giving it the highest rating. But these minor cavils shouldn't distract from an enthusiastic recommendation.
Should you see it? By all means. Highly recommended whether you want a classic and influential work of cinema or just a fun comedy.
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