SPOTLIGHT: Flaming Pre-Code Francis (V)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of the unjustly under-praised Kay Francis (1905-1968), one of the most popular Warner Brothers stars of the 1930s. Known today as “Kay Fwancis” for her distinguished speech impediment, I am of the opinion that Kay Francis is nevertheless one of the decade’s most natural and captivating leading ladies. We covered one of her little known Post-Code films, The Goose And The Gander (1935), in our series on 1935, but the only Pre-Code picture of hers that we’ve featured is the divine Trouble In Paradise (1932), which is among my favorite films. There are 11 more Pre-Code Francis pictures that I want to cover here. So far we’ve covered Guilty Hands (1931), 24 Hours (1931), Girls About Town (1931), and Man Wanted (1932). Today…

 

Jewel Robbery (1932)

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A jewel thief falls for a tycoon’s wife in Vienna. Starring Kay Francis and William Powell. Screenplay by William S. Gelsey. Based on a story by Ladislaus Fodor. English version by Bertram Bloch. Directed by William Dieterle. Leonard Maltin in his brief review of this picture equates it to one of those classic Lubitsch comedies. Indeed, this briskly paced tale of a bored baroness and a debonair jewel thief is right up that director’s alley, and although not as visually fluid as one of his films, Jewel Robbery could easily be a Lubitsch special. Kay Francis and Willaim Powell make an excellent pair, and the story is engrossing…

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“The Baroness Teri has a wealthy husband who indulges her, but she is bored by him and by her lovers and longs for some excitement. She meets her husband, the Baron at an exclusive Viennese jewelry store where he has promised to buy her a twenty-eight carat diamond ring. Just as he manages to buy the ring for a good price, a sophisticated, well-dressed robber breaks into the store. As his men proceed to empty the cases and relieve the customers of their jewelry, the robber carries on a flirtatious conversation with Teri. She is charmed, and when the robber offers the customers a choice between being locked in the safe or smoking a drugged cigarette, she declines either option, protesting that she has no desire to see him arrested. When she arrives home, she finds her bedroom filled with roses and her diamond ring in the safe. Soon she discovers that the robber has accompanied the flowers.

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“She begs him to take back her ring in order to save her reputation, explaining that she will not be able to wear it without telling how she got it back. While they talk, a policeman arrives, having trailed a suspicious character to her house. He finds the ring and the other stolen jewels in her safe and starts to arrest her, but the robber steps out from his hiding place to save her. The policeman takes them both along, but to Teri’s surprise, they do not go to the police station but to the robber’s apartment. The man she supposed to be a policeman is actually one of the robber’s men. The robber asks her to come away to Nice with him. She agrees to meet him, but before she can leave, the real police arrive… ” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM — and edited to avoid spoilers.)

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The film, which runs just under 68-minutes is, simply, fun. The premise is exciting, as are the characters — particularly Kay Francis’ baroness Teri, upon whom the entire film is focused. Unlike any role we’ve seen her play yet, Francis is breathtakingly brilliant in her role as that ’30s comedy staple: the bored, but bubbly titled wife of a stiff older man.  She displays a strong sense of comedic timing, particularly in her scenes with Helen Vinson, who plays her sympathetic but not fully understanding best friend. Additionally, Dieterle photographs her most radiantly — probably the best we’ve seen of her in this blog series — and she captivates every single frame with her presence. The entire plot rests on her shoulders, and she is undoubtedly in large part responsible for its excellence.

Another key ingredient to Jewel Robbery‘s charm is the character of the dashing jewel thief, played pitch perfectly by William Powell. (Perfect casting, right?) He’s so well suited for this role, and more importantly, shares ample amounts of chemistry with Francis, making their scenes a highlight of the film. Seeing as this is a romantic comedy, the success of this pairing is immeasurably important. (They’ll be paired again for next week’s picture, 1932’s One Way Passage, also produced by Warner Brothers.)

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Again, this is an excellent film, reminiscent of one of Lubitsch’s Trouble In Paradise (1932), which also starred Kay Francis. The story is exciting, fresh, and unpredictable (that’s important), and the leads produce definite sparks. Naturally, our spotlighted leading lady turns in an excellent performance. Certainly a great way to spend 68 minutes. Recommended highly to all.

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Come back next Friday for another Francis Pre-Code! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week of fun on That’s Entertainment! 

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