Criterion Caravan #8: Le Million by Rene Clair (1931)
When last we met old Rene Clair a couple films back, he was busy trying to invent the musical before sound was quite up to speed yet. Two years later we meet back with him and technology has caught up.
Standing on its own, apart from its history, Le Million holds up as a light, engaging musical comedy built around the fluffiest of plots - a search for a missing lottery ticket. But watching it, one can feel Clair’s exuberance at getting to take this new toy for a spin. The film features a singing chorus barking replies to the main characters, and light as it is, is completely even across the divide of 80 years, completely infectious with its joy for the medium. The madcap musical antics seem very much to have influenced the Marx Brothers and their main sequence from Night at the Opera seems to have been lifted from an onstage at the opera chase here. The jokes are not ones you’re going to be telling at the dinner table, but all the same, it was a shocking amount of fun to find in so early a film.
Interesting side note about the depiction of infidelity in film. In a movie these days, if someone gets caught cheating on someone, pretty much the rest of the movie has to be pure suffering in the aftermath before the ultimate reconciliation or dissolution. In Le Million, as in many films of the time, the man gets caught. The wife/fiance gets upset. Then they sit down and he says, what are you getting so worked up about, and she says, aww, okay. And that’s that. I’m not saying this was a better world. It was always the guy cheating and the woman shrugging and forgiving for starters. But it certainly made screenwriting easier.
Next up: We take a step backwards in time, back to the golden days of 1929 to GW Padst’s Pandora’s Box, which we somehow skipped when we passed through ‘29 the first time.