Saturday, April 14, 2012

Film Review: The Man with a Million (1954)

U.S. title The Man with a Million
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TCMDb: On a bet, a man tries to see how much he can get without breaking a million-pound bank note.

     Once upon a time, when Britain was very rich, deep in the vaults of England, there was more gold than anywhere else in the world. "Safe," people use to say, "safe as the Bank of England  . . ." And so our story begins.
     After the beautiful success of Roman Holiday in 1953, Gregory Peck followed up with another comedy entitled The Man with a Million (United States title) based off of a Mark Twain story called The Million Pound Note. For a comedy with Gregory Peck to be followed so soon after Roman Holiday was not, in my opinion, a very smart business move. I guarantee you when the audience back in 1954 went to the theater and saw that Gregory Peck was going to be in another comedy, they probably said something like this, "Oh, look, it's Gregory Peck in another comedy! It'll probably be as wonderful as Roman Holiday, don't you think, Bill?" Already, this little forgotten gem was in trouble. In fact, it never really had a chance, and even today it still hasn't been given it's rightful chance with movie critic, Leonard Maltin, giving it a 2/4 star rating.
Gregory Peck with British actor, Wilfrid Hyde-White.
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     I, though not a professional movie critic--in fact, not a movie critic at all--disagree with Maltin whole heartily. It's kind of like Roman Holiday is the perfect child that a pair of parents always wanted, in this case the proud Momma and Papa is Paramount Pictures, and then another Momma and Papa, General Film Distributors, in attempt at having a perfect child, was left with a misbegotten one . . . or so they thought.
     The Man with a Million had a lot to "look up to", and because of the audiences' of 1954 refusal to give it a chance, they were unable to see the film's true charm. I agree with Director Martin Scorsese who wrote in a small piece on TCM's April Highlights, "Peck's amazement and bewilderment, his initial euphoria and eventual exasperation, are beautifully drawn, and the film is genuinely delightful" (Scorsese).

Gregory and the million pound note.
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     Really, Man with a Million has a lot going for it, and I really don't understand why it still hasn't gotten it's chance. Gregory had fine comedic ability, but for the most part he never got to really flaunt those talents. One of my favorite parts in the film where he does get to flaunt those subtle comedic abilities is when he's chasing after the million pound note down the sidewalk after the wind has ripped it out of his hand, and every time it seems as though he's just about to get a hold of it, the wind carries it away from him. He's doing this, however, trying not to look suspicious, but it's not helping at all. He runs into a woman and her baby in a ram, couples walking on the sidewalk, and then he runs smack dab into a man who's handing out pamphlets, the pamphlets go flying and the note gets mixed in with it all. He jumping in the air grabbing at the pamphlets frantically, and then he gets down on the sidewalk and starts sorting through them, and when at last he's found the note, a group of school girls come walking by and start pointing and laughing at him for his wild antics. I laughed so hard during this scene that I couldn't catch my breath; it just tickled me. Also, the film has got a lot of British charm to it, and that just adds even more to the film; the character actors are pure fun.
     All I can say is give the film a chance. I did, and I'm glad that I did, too. I give The Man with a Million a 3/4 stars.

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