Man with a Million (1954) – reviewed by George

Gregory Peck stars in this comedy about money, or more precisely people’s attitudes toward money. Peck plays Henry Adams, an American who ends up stranded in England without any cash at all. Hypocrisy is everywhere; for instance, the American Consulate has a sign posted saying that the US government has NOT provided any funds to aid needy Americans in London, but the American Ambassador orders up 100 pounds in five-pound notes when he thinks Henry is rich, but temporarily short. And when English people, high-born or low, also believe Henry is rich then his opinion is one to seek out and follow, but when they think he is without money, suddenly he is a pariah and they are free to insult him, even draw him into a fight, which would have been an unbelievable action if directed toward a wealthy individual.
How did this begin? Well, the first sequence shows two very eccentric brothers (Ronald Squire and Wilfrid Hyde White), who obviously have more money than sense, withdrawing from their account one million pounds in the form of one of the only two one-million-pound notes ever printed. Later we see Henry, walking the streets worrying about finding a job, when the brothers call to him from their balcony, invite him in, and give him the note with the proviso that if he can return it to them uncashed in one month’s time, they will help him find a worthy job, in fact – a position.
He is stunned, disbelieving that money he cannot actually use will help him, but he takes the note and goes to a first-class haberdashery. One look at him and the manager tells a clerk to take him downstairs to the ready-made racks and then get him out the side door as quickly as possible. Henry is shoved into a suit that is as unbecoming as it is cheap, and then he tries to pay, saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything smaller.” The reaction is immediate and overwhelmingly apologetic: Henry is outfitted for every social occasion known to the upper class of England, and is then directed, with help for all the boxes, to Bumble’s Hotel, an eminently suitable address for a rich American.
How Henry is accepted into society, how he gets even wealthier, how he meets a girl, all this follows in logical fashion. And the foibles of people where money is involved, while funny, are also somewhat depressing.
To me, the most logical occurrence was the most depressing as well: the girl, Portia (Jane Griffiths) dumps Henry when he tells her the truth, and not because he is revealed as poor, but because she was deceived. But so was everyone else! And he told her as soon as he fell in love with her! Because then he didn’t want her ignorant of the truth! So the most logical thing in the story is the lack of logic shown by the human female. How could he possibly risk telling her until he was in love with her? And trusted her? And then it was a mistake. Not that she told anyone – but she had him removed from her life totally, which certainly places a black mark on the man so treated.
From a story by Mark Twain, with the screenplay written by Jill Craigie, this film, photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth and directed by Ronald Neame, is, I suggest, something to enjoy and discuss with your significant other. And you will laugh a good bit as well.

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