Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jewel Robbery (1932)

Director: William Dieterle                                 Writer: Erwin S. Gelsey
Film Score: Bernhard Kaun                              Cinematography: Robert Kurrie
Starring: William Powell, Kay Francis, Helen Vinson and Henry Kolker

Long before William Powell lit up the screen with Myrna Loy for their successful Thin Man series, as well as numerous other films, the star was teamed with the spectacular Kay Francis and formed a well-known duo of their own in the early thirties. Jewel Robbery is the fifth of the team’s six outings together. Francis plays a wealthy baroness in Vienna who is bored with her husband, bored with her lover, and bored with life. When she is at the jewelry story having her husband, Henry Kolker, buy her a large diamond ring, gentleman thief William Powell comes in with his gang and proceeds to steal the entire inventory of the store, including Francis’s new ring as well as her heart.

It’s an attempt at screwball comedy before the genre began in earnest, and they make a real go of it. When Francis gets home she discovers a giant bouquet of roses on the dressing table and her ring back in her safe. When girlfriend Helen Vinson gets the creeps knowing someone has been in the room she leaves, and that’s when Powell emerges. The romance is a cute idea, where Francis has the perfect affair at hand, as long as she can say she was forced into it rather than making the choice herself. But Powell frequently forgets, professing his love and “inviting” her to bed. But she refuses, saying that if she were “forced,” however, that would be a different story. And speaking of story, there’s very little of it to be had. The emphasis of the picture resides on the two leads and their banter with each other.

All of the pre-code trappings are in place. In the opening Kay Francis is seen in her bathtub, then her beautiful legs stretch out to put on her undergarments, and finally she slips into her dress. Of course, she doesn’t reveal as much skin as other actresses at the time, but that makes sense considering the role was originally written for Barbara Stanwyck. In her conversation with Vinson she makes it clear that she could take a lover at any time, but is simply bored with that. Best of all, however, is Powell’s use of marijuana cigarettes during the robbery to make the owner more amenable. He gives the rest to the security guard and he winds up sharing them with the police captain. It’s all quite charming and humorously done, five years before the over-the-top antics of Reefer Madness.

Critics at the time weren’t sure exactly how to take the film, as it wasn’t the kind of thing typically associates with director William Dieterle or his star. In many way’s they were right. For a madcap comedy it really does feel a bit forced. Powell is good, as always, but Kay Francis seems to be so flippant in her line delivery and apparently taking the whole thing as a joke that it does diminish the final product somewhat, but then she tended to do that in many of her comedies. Even so, there is an undeniable charm to the whole thing that leaves the viewer happy to have participated, especially when Francis looks into the camera and winks at us in the final shot. Jewel Robbery may not be the best example of production code flaunting, or screwball comedy, but it is an entertaining way to spend time with a terrific cast of characters who clearly have a sense of humor.

No comments:

Post a Comment