Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Jewel Robbery (1932)

JEWEL ROBBERY is an unusual film about an elegant jewel thief (William Powell) and his willing victim, a wealthy but unhappily married Baroness (Kay Francis).

This very entertaining movie features two great stars in the lead roles in a fast-paced and occasionally surprising film. The excellent script gives Powell and Francis irreverent and sometimes startling dialogue. The movie's wit and romance gives it the feel of an Ernst Lubitsch film, particularly TROUBLE IN PARADISE, a Kay Francis film about jewel thieves released the same year as JEWEL ROBBERY.

This is very much a pre-Code film, including the method Powell sometimes uses to subdue his victims: he gives them marijuana cigarettes. Although on the whole I found the film quite enjoyable, I didn't care for that particular plot angle; I found it distasteful and too far "out there."

It also must be said that while the characters are elegance personified, there isn't a "good" character in the bunch...everyone is greedy, unfaithful, or a criminal. However, this is something of a fairy tale, and as such it's easy to root for the friendly thief and the bored Baroness; the very pre-Code ending is quite wonderful. Depression-era audiences doubtless loved the fantasy of the idle rich not being very happy! That's a recurring theme in Depression-era films, including many screwball comedies.

As always, Francis looks amazing, starting with the first shot of her character in a gigantic bubble bath. I'm not sure if the gown she wears in the last section of the movie is meant to be a nightgown, but whatever it was, it was something else. Francis had wardrobes like no one in the movies before or since.

The supporting cast includes Helen Vinson as Teri's friend and Henry Kolker as Teri's husband. Hardie Albright, Alan Mowbray, and Charles Coleman are also in the cast, with Coleman playing -- what else? -- Powell's butler. Ruth Donnelly has a very funny scene as Francis's maid.

JEWEL ROBBERY was directed by William Dieterle. It runs 70 minutes.

This film has not had a DVD or VHS release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

Reviews by other bloggers (spoiler alert): The Classic Maiden and She Blogged By Night.

Recommended for anyone who loves the stars or is interested in a fascinating example of filmmaking in the pre-Code era.

2012 Update: JEWEL ROBBERY is now available on DVD in the Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 4 Collection from the Warner Archive.


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