Friday, August 24, 2012

Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 4: Jewel Robbery directed by William Dieterle (starring William Powell, Kay Francis, Helen Vinson, Henry Kolker)

Jewel Robbery (1932). Screenplay by Erwin Gelsey from the play Jewel Robbery (Ekszerrablás a Váci-uccában) by Ladislas Fodor (translated by Bertram Bloch).

Jewel Robbery is a lighter-than-a-feather romantic comedy starring William Powell as a debonair jewel thief and Kay Francis as the wife of one of his victims (Henry Kolker, who would play Francis's cuckolded husband again the next year in The Keyhole). Reading of Powell's exploits in the local paper excites Francis (a bored baroness) and her best friend Marianne (funny Helen Vinson), and actually being present at his next robbery finishes the job.

It was obvious from the opening credits that these two characters would romance each other — Jewel Robbery was the fifth film Powell and Francis did together. It's just too bad that the relationship feels forced: the actors have zero chemistry with each other.

Luckily, each actor has enough charm individually to make this flaw forgivable. Powell's and Francis's fans are probably busy focusing on their favorite, anyway.

Powell is smooth as always, but the easy manner that would carry him through six Thin Man films — that attitude of "Yes, I'm charming, but can we talk about something more interesting?" — has not yet developed. Francis is also just on the cusp of blooming into her persona, with One Way Passage and Trouble in Paradise just around the corner, but it's easy to see why they were paired in six movies together.

One more point of interest regarding this pre-Code film is the nearly rampant use of marijuana as a comedic point throughout Jewel Robbery. Powell passes the funny cigarettes around to all and sundry, leading to much laughter and silliness from the cast.

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