Thursday, November 15, 2018

Kay Meets a Robber

Welcome to our contribution to the CMBA 2018 Fall Blogathon: Outlaws. As always, we'll begin with a short synopsis of the film.

Baroness Teri (Kay Francis) lives to shop. Her husband, Baron Franz von Hohenfels (Henry Kolker) indulges her with expensive jewels and clothing, but other than that he is completely inattentive. The Baroness' lovers also prove to be bores, so all that is left is looking for ever more expensive gems. When she visits a local store to buy yet another impressive ring, she finds herself in the middle of a Jewel Robbery (1932).

Though the plot is slight, this is a witty and engaging film. From the moment we meet Teri, we are intrigued. Ms. Francis creates a funny, wry character who is sexy and adorable. We first meet her in a bubble bath, where she is playing with the bubbles and the soap. When the soap goes flying from the tub, we experience a moment in which we believe she is really going to pop out of the bath. The film is pre-code with a vengeance! And while it is very dialogue driven, that's not really a bad thing, since the script is so sharp, you want to hear every word.
Sharing the screen with her in their their fifth (of seven) films together (TCM article) is the always-entertaining William Powell. The unnamed Robber is gentile and courteous. Like Teri, he too lives to shop - but he'd rather do it without money. Together, their repartee is engaging and quite suggestive (like I said, this is very much a pre-code film). 

Teri and the Robber participate in a subtle mating dance from the moment they meet. We, the audience, have the pleasure of watching them verbally duel. And with William Powell as the sparring partner, the audience is in store for a battle of wits. The Robber's sophistication and wealth are apparent. The dialogue slips from his mouth like pearls - each line is delivered in such as way as to leave no doubt as to The Robber's attitude towards Teri, as well as his other "victims." One wonders why he is still stealing, as his vault is full of valuable gems, which he seems in no rush to sell. We suspect theft is a game to him - a cat-and-mouse challenge between him and the police, and his quarry.
Initially, Mr. Powell was not interested in the film (TCM article). He'd just married Carole Lombard (his first marriage had ended in divorce) and was eager to spend time with his bride. Unfortunately, the marriage was over by 1933, though the two remained close friends until her death in 1942 (My Man Godfrey was filmed well after their divorce). He was engaged to Jean Harlow when she died in 1937; that same year, he was diagnosed with cancer. He temporarily retired from film, while he underwent radiation therapy. Within two years, his cancer was in remission. His only child had died in 1968 (suicide following a period of prolonged illness and depression; father and son had been quite close, and William's final letter was to his father). In 1940, he remarried Diana Lewis, a marriage which lasted until his death (from heart failure) in 1984 at the age of 91. He'd been retired since 1955 (Mister Roberts was his final film appearance) (William Powell: The Life and Films by Roger Bryant).
Helen Vinson as Teri's best friend, Marianne is also delightful.  The scenes between her and Ms. Francis are amusing.  Their discussion of the Baron, and his lack of skill in the bedroom are more than suggestive, as is Teri's admission that she is merely arm candy for her husband - candy for which he is eager to pay, with expensive clothing and jewelry.  

Also appearing briefly is  Alan Mowbray as Detective Fritz, providing the one real surprise in the movie. Though it should be mentioned that there is another surprise for modern audiences, unused to pre-code films - The Robber's use of a "funny" cigarette, that keeps reappearing in the films at inopportune times is quite enjoyable (and is clearly marijuana, which would, of course, be totally banned from movies when the Code was introduced). (Gestures of Love: Romancing Performance in Classical Hollywood Cinema by Steven Rybin).
Jewel Robbery was based on Ladislaus Fodor's play Ékszerrablás a Váci utcába, which was adapted by Bertram Bloch for Broadway as The Jewel Robbery. The film got mixed reviews (The Complete Kay Francis Career Record: All Film, Stage, Radio and Television Appearances by Lynn Kear and John Rossman and ), some praising Ms. Francis, some criticizing her (we're in the former camp. She's delightful). 

This is a truly entertaining film, and we highly recommend it. We'll leave you with a clip with Mr. Powell and Ms. Francis getting to know one another.

This post is part of the CMBA 2018 Fall Blogathon: Outlaws


  1. I have seen Powell as an outright villain only once (When Knighthood Was in Flower), but he is perfectly cast here as a charmer who operates outside the law. Like you, I don't see how anyone couldn't adore Kay Francis as the Baroness. Some people!

  2. Oh my, how I love this film (it was my first choice for the blogathon, but you nabbed it!). Your post is wonderful, but please answer this: how does Kay keep that gown from falling down? She and Powell were so good together. What a team... until that darned Myrna came along ;)

    1. Ah, but I love Myrna - he was so good with her AND with Kay!

  3. This movie is so sexy; it sparkles like champagne. My favorite scene is when Teri visits the Jewel Thief in his apartment -- and at one point he picks her up and drops her over a second floor balcony onto his bed!
    Kay Francis and William Powell were close friends offscreen; he, Ronald Colman, and Richard Barthelmess were best friends, and she often joined them.

  4. Lovely review. Powell and Francis were one of the great screen teams and the pre-code naughtiness in this movie proves that earlier generations weren't as straight-laced as sometimes thought.

  5. What a fantastic choice! Loved this film. So glad you highlighted her dynamic with her friend, which was a favorite element for me. The Powell-Francis duo was just magic, and the funny cigarettes crack me up every time.

  6. I was so surpsised with how risky this film was - suggestive dialogue, sexy plot, marijuana causing jokes... And it was also so much fun! Kay and William are amazing together.
    Great review!


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