Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Keyhole (1933)

Director: Michael Curtiz                                   Writer: Robert Presnell
Film Score: W. Franke Harling                         Cinematography: Barney McGill
Starring: Kay Francis, George Brent, Allen Jenkins and Glenda Farrell

A lightweight story of blackmail, The Keyhole is an early film by director Michael Curtiz that features the fabulous Kay Francis. Based on a short story entitled “Adventuress” by Alice D.G. Miller, the story has Francis being blackmailed by her former dance partner Monroe Owsley. The reason for the blackmail? Francis is married to wealthy businessman Henry Kolker because she didn’t know that Owsley never went through with the divorce from their European marriage. Unwilling to have her husband exposed as being married to a bigamist, she paid Owsley ten thousand dollars in hush money. But when he returns demanding fifty thousand, she knows she’ll never be free of him. Kolker’s sister, Helen Ware, however, has a plan. If Francis goes to Cuba on vacation and Owsley follows her, she’ll make a call to the state department to have his visa cancelled and he will be unable to return to the United States.

So far, so good. Except that all of this sneaking around to protect Kolker’s name has him suspicious. Sure that Francis is having an affair, he hires private detective George Brent to follow her. Unfortunately, Brent’s cryptic conversation with Kolker has him believing that Kolker wants her set up to avoid paying alimony. He begins wooing her, but things get even more complicated when Brent begins falling for the irresistible Francis onboard the ship to Cuba. In the supporting cast are a pair of wonderful character actors. Allen Jenkins, who was in over a hundred films plays Brent’s assistant pretending to be his valet. He falls for the terrific Glenda Farrell onboard the ship. Farrell had worked for Curtiz earlier in the year on The Mystery of the Wax Museum. She’s pretending to be a rich, Englishwoman but is really out to snag a rich husband while Jenkins is pretending to be from a wealthy family in the States, neither realizing they’re conning the other.

It’s a very entertaining picture. Brent, who made his start in film as an extra in John Ford’s The Iron Horse, was a staple of depression era Warner Brothers’ films and went on to have a solid career up through the mid fifties. He’s great here as Francis’s love interest. It’s quite an enjoyable film and Curtiz, even at this early stage in his career, has a unique touch with unexpected shots that bespeak a real artist at work with the camera. The film was originally to co-star William Powell, who had starred with Francis in six other films, but he was replaced by Brent in the first of six pairings of their own that make the duo a very successful onscreen pair. The title of the picture was something of a gimmick, opening and closing as the camera zooms in and pulls back from a large keyhole. While nothing out of the ordinary, The Keyhole is a solid film with good performances by a great cast and crew and ultimately a satisfactory viewing experience.

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