Let’s start our German week with a cult classic. Agreed, the idea behind Das Millionenspiel isn’t the most original in the world, but to be fair to Tom Toelle‘s film, most of the movies you’ll think of when I reveal the plot were made later than this one, way back in 1970.
In Das Millionenspiel we meet Bernhard Lotz (Jörg Pleva), this month’s contestant in the widely watched television gave Das Millionenspiel (The Million Game). If Lotz makes it to the end of this live broadcast, he’ll be the proud owner of a million Deutsche Mark (roughly half a million Euro). If he doesn’t get the money, it’s because he has been killed. To make it a bit more exciting for the viewers, there’s a gang of hitmen behind Lotz. If this trio, the “Köhlerbande”, manages to kill the contestant, they get the money. Sounds like a pretty exciting game show? That’s why Lotz is contestant number seventeen.
What makes Das Millionenspiel interesting is that it is filmed as a tv broadcast. Thus does the quizmaster occasionally interrupt the game for a necessary message from the sponsors (commercials which are evidently a satire on society and pretty far-out: there’s one promoting sharp knives which ends in an housewife being stabbed for talking too much and one diet pills commercial that features a stark naked guy, with his hand prudishly placed over the right area).
Also, in what has now become a regular feature on the news bulletins, the show also walks up to the viewers and asks them their opinion on the game show. Additionally, viewers get the chance to help Lotz or to rat him out to his hunters.
This happens because the show is filmed partially in the studio and partially on the contestant’s tail. The contestant is constantly tracked by cameras and, if the cameramen lose the contestant’s steps, the audience can help out the show, trying to find the contestant once again. It’ll all help the ratings.
This is also a good thing for the film: it was made for television and may not have had the biggest budget, but for some reason this helps to make the film more real. Sometimes it’s not too bad to be shabby.
The film is based on the short story “The Prize of Peril” by Robert Sheckley. The movie Le Prix du Danger (by Yves Boisset) was also based on this story and it’s the French film that – according to some sources – was watched by Stephen King, whose The Running Man (also made into a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) eerily resembles the Sheckley story. It can’t have been Das Millionenspiel because the film was shelved in 1977, due to legal reasons. Administrative errors had made it unclear whether the producers did have the rights to the story. The case was finally resolved in 2002 and led to the film’s third transmission in 32 years. In 2009 the film was finally released on DVD.
To me, one of the oddest parts of the film was the masked show ballet that was hired to lighten the mood of the live finale of the game show. The film itself may have predicted the reality shows of the previous decade, but the dancers reveal the film’s age, the most hallucinating era mankind has ever seen. On the other hand, it makes the film only more cult, not? And to make it even more cult: the soundtrack was made by the people behind Can.
As the gameshow host would say: make sure you watch it. For now, here’s a clip: