René Clair Tom Milne - Essay

Tom Milne

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although the balletic wit over which Clair's critics once went into ecstasies has been looking increasingly fragile for some years now, the charm is still undeniably there [in Le Million], though in moments rather than in overall conception…. [There] is no doubt that, historically, Clair must be credited with developing the musical style brought to perfection by [Rouben] Mamoulian in Love Me Tonight. But where Mamoulian's fantasy seemed to be liberated by the camera's musical role, with Clair the process is almost entirely mechanical. Shots are governed less by any musical rhythm (or indeed by any impulse or motivation in the characters) than by a mathematical process whereby a shot of someone running one way will be followed by someone running in another….

Since the musical score is also remarkably uninspired, being largely a matter of choral chants designed to get assorted lines of crooks, creditors, police or revellers on the move again, the main impression produced by the film is of actions arbitrarily stimulated by galvanic shocks. Significantly, Le Million is at its best not in motion …, but in repose…. For the most part … the characters are simply puppets, delightful enough to spend a moment or two with …; but when they run through the film flirting, rearing or quarrelling purely in response to plot stimuli in a hermetically sealed world, one's interest and sympathies tend to waste away for lack of oxygen. (pp. 246-47)

Tom Milne, "Retrospective: 'Le million'," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1977), Vol. 44, No. 526, November, 1977, pp. 246-47.