The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 50, December 13, 2020, Article 29


With lots of us spending much time at home these days, it's a nice opportunity to catch up on some great old films we might have missed. One such old film is the 1954 production based on the Mark Twain story "The Million Pound Bank Note". Here's a retro review from the Sunday Observer. -Editor

What 'currency' does a 'banknote' have? The question itself might sound utterly senseless and absurd. However, it is this supposition that becomes the premise for a wager that one may say is something of 'financial philosophy' between the wealthy and eccentric Montpelier brothers in London that sets off the events that form the comedic and somewhat exciting 'The Million Pound Note'. A work of British cinema from 1954 with Hollywood screen legend Gregory Peck in the lead role as the penniless American seaman Henry Adams, this film directed by Ronald Neame is based on the short story The Million Pound Bank Note by Mark Twain.

The Million Pound Note movie poster The story takes place in London in 1903. American seaman Henry Adams, played brilliantly by Gregory Peck, is stranded penniless in Britain and desperate to find work so that he may have some means of sustenance and be able to get back home.

He is spotted while walking on the streets of London by two wealthy, eccentric brothers, Oliver and Roderick Montpelier who invite him into their opulent home and unknown to him, get him involved in their intriguing wager.

The Montpellier brothers have persuaded the Bank of England to issue a one million pound banknote, which they present to Adams in an envelope, only telling him that it contains some money. The basis of the wager that the two brothers have is that Oliver believes that the mere existence of the note will enable the possessor to obtain whatever he needs, while Roderick insists that it would actually have to be spent for it to be of any use.

Weary and famished, Henry who leaves the Montpelier house with the envelope, steps into a small restaurant and treats himself to a large hearty meal, twice over! And when it comes to the point of settling the bill, he opens the envelope to find that the sum of money inside it is in fact a one million pound note issued by the Bank of England.

The waiter, the proprietor and his wife, who operate the restaurant, are stunned beyond belief and come to the conclusion that Henry is an eccentric millionaire. They fawn before him and tell him that as they cannot change the banknote and give him his balance for payment of meal and therefore, it is gladly 'on the house' as they feel privileged to have served such a distinguished wealthy man as he, and further, bid Henry to come to their humble establishment to dine whenever he wishes.

The situation overwhelms Henry. He rushes over to the house of the Montpelier brothers to return the banknote. However, Henry learns they have gone abroad for a month.

The letter enclosed along with the million pound banknote in the envelope says that if Henry can return to them in a month with the banknote, having not cashed it, they will provide him a job, since Henry was in need of one. Realising that he has no choice but to wait for a month until the Montpelier brothers return, Henry realises the opportunity of 'getting by' is now within his possibilities by the possession of the banknote, by getting things on credit on the mere presentation of the fortune he carries in the form of a single banknote.

What follows is a whirlwind of skyrocketing social mobility for Henry who soon becomes the toast of London town! The newspapers celebrate him as the American millionaire with a one million pound banknote.

Found via News & Notes from the Society of Paper Money Collectors (Volume VI, Number 24, December 1, 2020). -Editor

To read the complete article, see:
The Million Pound Note (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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