Friday, April 25, 2008

The Keyhole directed by Michael Curtiz (starring Kay Francis, George Brent)

The Keyhole (1933). Screenplay by Robert Presnell from the story "Adventuress" by Alice D.G. Miller.

Ann Vallee (Kay Francis) married her dance partner Maurice Le Brun (Monroe Owsley), and they had great success together professionally under the moniker "Maurice and Valentine". But it didn't work out, and Maurice wanted a divorce. Ann subsequently married aging millionaire Schuyler Brooks (Henry Kolker). But it turns out Maurice never went through with the divorce, and is now blackmailing Ann to keep things quiet.

When Ann goes to her sister-in-law Portia (Helen Ware) for advice, she recommends Ann leave America temporarily and let Maurice (a non-American) follow her. Then, Portia will make sure he cannot reenter the country. This quick trip abroad makes Brooks suspicious, however, so he hires private detective Neil Davis (George Brent) — who is tired of "scheming females" — to follow her.

Ann and Neil get friendly during the trip, and things get more interesting in Cuba. The handsome Brent has a natural acting style and an easygoing charm that makes it easy to see why he was such a popular romantic lead in his day (he worked with Kay Francis on at least six films, and with Bette Davis on a dozen more): he's just like a regular guy, only a little better.

The Keyhole is a lighthearted romantic comedy with just the right amount of tension. The title comes from the camera entering the story via a bedroom keyhole at the beginning, and leaving through a different one at the end. I'm sure it was a perfect diversion for Depression-era audiences (from prolific director Michael Curtiz). There are some clever twists at the end, all geared toward the expected conclusion, and even a suicide note introduced in the first scene becomes useful in tying up a loose end.

A minor subplot is provided by a one-sided romance between Hank (Allen Jenkins), a fellow private eye traveling as Neil's valet, and Dot (Glenda Farrell, later of the Torchy Blane series), a gold-digging con artist. The actors play well off each other — and Farrell is immensely charming — but their relationship offers only a little comic relief and seems mainly there to pad out The Keyhole's 70-minute running time.

Fans of Trouble in Paradise may spot George Humbert as a waiter in a couple of scenes. Humbert served Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) in that film's unforgettable opening scene. Viewers with a particularly keen eye may also spot another recognizable face waiting tables: Gino Corrado. Corrado was the piano accompanist to Basil Rathbone's violinist in A Notorious Affair.


Laura said...

This sounds like a lot of fun. I have really come to appreciate George Brent via his pre-Code and mid-'30s films. I used to sort of mentally write him off as bland, not having seen him in much, but I now find myself looking for his movies on TCM so I can see more.

Best wishes,

Craig Clarke said...

I can definitely see why you would see him that way at the first -- he doesn't have any real distinguishing features to separate him from any other plainly attractive leading men. But he proves himself a real charmer here.

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