UK / 1953
Director: Ronald Neame
Writer: Jill Craigie (based on a story by Mark Twain)
Cast: Gregory Peck, Jane Griffiths, Ronald Squire, Wilfred Hyde White, Joyce Grenfell, AE Matthews, Reginald Beckwith, Hartley Power
For the grand sum of £75,000, Gregory Peck agreed to come to England to play a penniless American who comes to England in search of his fortune. Based on the short story Strange Wager by Mark Twain, The Million Pound Note (retitled Man with a Million in America) is a charming comedy, set in Edwardian England, that retains the American author’s wit and insight but adds an extra layer of English eccentricity to proceedings.
When two wealthy brothers (Ronald Squire, Wilfred Hyde White) disagree about the consequences of a pauper being given a million pound note with instructions not to spend it – one argues that he would be no better off; the other believes he could live indefinitely on credit – they decide that the only way to settle their dispute is to put it into practice. They recruit a penniless and friendless American, Henry Adams (Peck), to their cause. Armed with the note, Adams soon finds society’s doors opening for him and business establishments more than happy to let him live on credit. He even becomes a buzzword on the stock exchange, sending stocks soaring whenever his name is mentioned.
He soon discovers a downside to this heady life, however. Falling in love with Portia (Jane Griffiths; the producers originally wanted Dinah Sheridan for the role but she retired from acting after Genevieve), the niece of the Duchess of Cromarty (the redoubtable Joyce Grenfell), their relationship is threatened when Adams tells Portia the truth about his status. And when the note goes missing (stolen by the Duke of Frognal (AE Matthews), who is annoyed that he was turned out of his hotel suite upon Adams’s arrival), the American’s credit-rating seems decidely less healthy. A sprightly satire adeptly directed by Ronald Neame (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), The Million Pound Note makes for priceless entertainment.