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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
7:00 p.m. Le million
René Clair (France, 1931)

Le million is a buoyant fantasy that depends on a unique blend of music and romance, accomplished with great visual resourcefulness in the finest René Clair tradition. The story involves a search for a winning lottery ticket left in the pocket of a coat taken to the pawnshop. An impoverished painter leads the wild chase, followed by his creditors, his false friends and their girlfriends, a few crooks, and, bringing up the rear, the cops. Many scenes are hysterically funny, others are quite moving, but the finale is in a class by itself, a burlesque of grand opera that makes the Marx Brothers look like Abbott and Costello. One of the first screen operettas, Le million preserves the spirit of the original stage musical in a style that is entirely cinematic.

• Written by Clair, based on the musical comedy by Georges Berr, Guillemaud. Photographed by Georges Périnal. With René Lefèvre, Annabella, Louis Allibert, Paul Olivier. (80 mins, In French with English subtitles, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)