"The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" is a popular British music hall song of the 19th century, written in 1891 or 1892 by Fred Gilbert (Frederick Younge Gilbert, 1850 - 1903), a theatrical agent who had begun to write comic songs as a sideline some twenty years previously.
The song was popularised by singer and comedian Charles Coborn, and quickly became a staple of his act, performed on tour in different languages throughout the world. Coborn confirmed that Gilbert's inspiration was the gambler and confidence trickster Charles Wells. Wells was reported to have won one-and-a-half million francs at the Monte Carlo casino, using the profits from previous fraud. However, others suggested as the model include Joseph Jagger (see Men who broke the bank at Monte Carlo) and Kenneth MacKenzie Clark, father of famed art historian Kenneth Clark. Coborn writes that he was acquainted with Gilbert, and it is thus likely that his account is correct.
Coborn claims in his 1928 autobiography that to the best of his recollection he first sang the song in 'the latter part of 1891.' An advertisement in a London newspaper suggests, however, that he first performed it in public in mid-February 1892. The song remained popular from the 1890s until the late 1940s, and is still referenced in popular culture today.
Songwriter Fred Gilbert never achieved comparable success with any subsequent composition. In 1898 he moved to the coastal village of Sandgate, Kent, after contracting tuberculosis. He died there, or nearby, in 1903. (Some published works give his place of death as Eltham, south-east London, but this is an error. The General Register Office index to deaths shows his place of death to be in the former registration district of Elham, Kent, in which Sandgate was situated). Upon his death his estate was valued at £8.
The song title inspired the 1935 US romantic comedy The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. Although the song appears in the film, the narrative bears little relation to either the song or to the story of Charles Wells. The film and song were involved in the copyright case Francis, Day & Hunter Ltd v Twentieth Century Fox Corp.
In the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) sings the tune while riding across the desert to the camp of Prince Faisal. A short excerpt is included in the film The Railway Children. In Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow, Tyrone Slothrop, evidently knowing the song but not having understood the lyrics properly, spends time in Monte Carlo fruitlessly looking for the Bois de Boulogne.
A parody titled The Tanks That Broke the Ranks Out in Picardy was written in 1916.
The melody of the song is used in the season eleven episode of American Dad! "The Shrink". After the lead character, Stan, employs a CIA shrink ray in order to live in a miniature city of his own creation, the character sings "The Man Who Built the World in His Basement".
In the film Alien: Covenant, in mimicry of his idol Lawrence of Arabia, the android David sings the words of the song's title while he is cutting his own hair in the mirror.
I've just got here, to Paris, from the sunny southern shore;
I to Monte Carlo went, just to raise my winter's rent.
Dame Fortune smiled upon me as she'd never done before,
And I've now such lots of money, I'm a gent.
Yes, I've now such lots of money, I'm a gent.
As I walk along the Bois de Boulogne
With an independent air
You can hear the girls declare
"He must be a Millionaire."
You can hear them sigh and wish to die,
You can see them wink the other eye
At the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo.
I stay indoors 'til after lunch, and then my daily walk
To the great Triumphal Arch is one grand triumphal march,
Observed by each observer with the keenness of a hawk,
I'm a mass of money, linen, silk and starch -
I'm a mass of money, linen, silk and starch.
I patronised the tables at the Monte Carlo hell
'Til they hadn't got a sou for a Christian or a Jew;
So I quickly went to Paris for the charms of mad'moiselle,
Who's the lodestone of my heart - what can I do,
When with twenty tongues she swears that she'll be true?