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THE MILLION POUND NOTE, 1954
Starring: Gregory Peck, Ronald Squire, Wilfred Hyd-White and Jane Griffiths
An impoverished American sailor is fortunate enough to be passing the house of two rich gentlemen who has conceived the crazy idea of distributing a note worth one million pounds. The sailor finds that whenever he tries to use the note to buy something, people treat him as if he is a King and let him have whatever he likes for free. Ultimately, the money proves to be more troublesome than it is worth when it almost costs him his dignity and the woman he loves.
This is truly one of the most classic films of the 1950’s, based on a short story by Mark Twain this film has everything that a classic film needs. Not least of all being Gregory Peck.
The basis for the plot is that Henry Adams (Gregory Peck) is a sailor who ended up lost at sea. He was picked up by a British frigate and taken to London. Adams finds it difficult to get job, even at the American consulate. Meanwhile two British business men have a special wager. They give Adams the a specially made million pound note with the instructions that they will give him any job he wishes as long as he can return the note, intact, after one month.
This film is genuinely funny. Much of the comedy comes from Adams attempting to get change for the million pound note. When he first receives the note in an envelope, knowing that it contains money, but not knowing how much money, he sits down to a hearty meal in a restaurant, his first in a while. After having eaten he is asked to pay the bill, which costs three shillings and six pence (The film is set in 1903, so old style denominations). Adams hands over the million pound note and apologising that he doesn’t have anything smaller.
The themes in the film also provide for a lot of the comedy, the idea that people base their assumptions of others based on their wealth or at least their appearance of wealth, turns up some funny moments. For example Adams walks into a suit store and is treated poorly until he produces the million pound note; suddenly he is offered only the very best suits and more suits than he asked for.
Eventually Henry Adams finds himself socialising with Dukes and Dutchess’, Lords and Ladies. Without actually saying anything he is believed to be a charming, intelligent man with ‘exceptional breeding’. In due course Henry finds that he is invited to charity ball and ends up getting himself into debt, the old accidentally bidding on an item that he doesn’t want and can’t afford gag. He also is asked to lend his name to a gold mining company in order to encourage others to invest. All of these have very entertaining results.
Gregory Peck is of course the best actor in the film, being considered the 12th greatest male stars of all time according to the American Film Institute, how could he not be. Many of the other actors not only over act but pull some very odd facial expression which is typical of British comedies in the 1950’s but whilst these are no longer considered integral to comedy they aren’t exactly off putting. An interesting side note about Gregory Peck; he was placed on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, irrelevant in this context but still interesting nevertheless.
Given inflation since 1903 one million pounds is equal to over 98 million pounds today. Again slightly irrelevant but it puts things into context.
Getting back to the film though, when the note is taken away the public turn against Mr. Adams, but as soon as the individual who had hidden the note returns it, the people befriend him again. The point of the film is that with a simple symbol, a piece of paper, people will base their entire judgments of someone.
I highly recommend “The Million Pound Note”, it is a classic comedy and also you can show that you know another Gregory Peck film other than “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
THE MILLION POUND NOTE