Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Keyhole (1933)

THE KEYHOLE is a somewhat odd but watchable pre-Code melodrama starring Kay Francis and George Brent.

The plot is a bit convoluted. Francis is married to a wealthy older man and is being blackmailed by her slimy first husband to keep quiet about his not having gone through with their divorce. The current husband notices his wife acting unusually and hires a detective (Brent) to follow her on a cruise to Cuba and see if she's faithful. She is...and then Brent falls in love with Francis himself. What to do?

That's about all there is to the plot, other than some not-too-funny comic relief by Allen Jenkins as Brent's sidekick-turned-valet and Glenda Farrell as a gold digger. The film zips by in 69 minutes so there's not time for the plot to get bogged down for very long.

Francis and Brent made several movies together -- I previously reviewed their film STRANDED (1935) -- and are an attractive team. The movie's worth watching for them well as for Francis's typically spectacular Orry-Kelly gowns. That woman sure knew how to suffer in style.

Francis is sympathetic, as usual, and Brent provides a nice change from the more unsavory men appearing in the film. This is one of many films made in what I think of as Brent's "pre-mustache" era, when he came across on screen with much more energy and sparkle than he did in his more staid -- but still enjoyable -- films of the '40s, such as 1946's MY REPUTATION and TOMORROW IS FOREVER.

Francis and Brent's other films together are LIVING ON VELVET (1935), THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER (1935), GIVE ME YOUR HEART (1936), and SECRETS OF AN ACTRESS (1938). Francis and Brent were both busy actors during the '30s; Francis released five films in 1933 and Brent appeared in seven movies that year.

Monroe Owsley, who plays the blackmailer, does everything but twirl his mustache in the style of an old-time melodrama. The viewer never forgets for a minute that he's acting. Henry Kolker is also hard to take as Husband No. 2. Helen Ware provides some sturdy support as Francis's helpful sister-in-law. Irving Bacon and George Chandler are among the familiar faces seen in bit parts.

THE KEYHOLE was directed by Michael Curtiz. Curtiz, of course, directed many classics over the years, including THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, THE SEA HAWK, THE SEA WOLF, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, CASABLANCA, and WHITE CHRISTMAS.

THE KEYHOLE is not available on VHS or DVD, but is available as part of the library at Turner Classic Movies. This is one of many Francis films I taped during the channel's recent Kay Francis Month.

The trailer is here.


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