Thursday, September 9, 2010

Le Million

I just watched an interesting movie from 1931, René Clair's Le Million. I'd have to classify it as a slapdash French comedy that is in the same vein as Looney Tunes, albeit with an operatic twist (it's demi-musical, where sometimes the plot is advance through speech, sometimes through song). 

The plot is simple. A down on his luck Bohemian artiste, who juggles two women and a roommate/friend who is apt to stab him in the back to perform self-interested acts of loyal friendship, is in severe debt to his grocer, butcher, landlord, etc., who have had enough of his constant skirting his bills. Just as the hammer is about to fall, the young artiste finds that he's won the lottery. Unfortunately, one of the two women who happens to be his fiancee has given away his jacket to a burglar on the run from the police. The jacket, of course, has the ticket in the pocket, and our young artiste sets out to reclaim his ticket. Hilarity, song, and French ensues. 

The movie is quite enjoyable. Its not hysterical, by any means, but there are certainly some funny parts. By far the funniest scene is in the police station. The artiste struggles to explain his true identity to an older policeman who clearly has heard this story before. To emphasize this point is an older gentleman who consistently interrupts the gendarme and the artiste to ask, very politely, if he may now go. He is reprimanded time and time again and told that he may not, and must go back and sit on the bench. In the background, if you continue to watch him, he continually puts on his hat, while a gendarme next to him removes it and places it on his lap. Undeterred, he picks it up, and innocently places it on his head as though nothing has happened. This sort of repetitious, innocently confused humor can be seen in The Life of Brian. Brian gives away a gourd to a scruffy bum who keeps interjecting himself into Brian's frantic conversation to haggle over the price, despite the fact that Brian has given it to him (see video). 

As I mentioned before, the movie is reminiscent of the best parts of Looney Tunes, which I clearly am conditioned too, because as I was watching Le Million, I kept expecting Bugs Bunny style things to occur. For instance, people are chasing each other (this happens constantly in the movie). They run by a fire hose. Conditioned to the 'Tunes as I am, I expect one of the characters to grab the hose, spray the other, and then run away. This does not happen. However, true to its comedic slapstick type form, other tropes do occur - slapping someone instead of explaining yourself, then turning tail and running, police who clamp down on the nearest person a la Venus flytraps, regardless of who they are. 

All in all, the movie was quite pleasant, blending a stage musical with a filmed one. Things go wrong, sometimes quite wrong for various characters, but you never feel a sense of dread or unhappiness. Certainly an interesting example of comedy in the '30s (although it doesn't hold a candle to Chaplin or the Marx bros.).

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