William Powell … The Robber
Kay Francis … Baroness Teri von Horhenfels
Helen Vinson … Marianne Horne
Hardie Albright … Paul, Undersecretary of State
Alan Mowbray … Fritz
André Luguet … Count Andre (as Andre Luguet)
Henry Kolker … Baron Franz von Horhenfels
Spencer Charters … Johann Christian Lenz, Nightwatchman
Lee Kohlmar … Hollander the Jeweler
Clarence Wilson … Prefect of Police
Directed by William Dieterle.
Based on the play “Ekszerrablas a Vaci-uccaban” by Ladislaus Fodor.
Screnplay by Erwin Gelsey.
Cinematography by Robert Kurrle.
Editing by Ralph Dawson.
Musical Direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
Art Direction by Robert Haas.
A Warner Bros. Picture.
Released July 21, 1932.
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $308,000
Domestic Gross: $316,000
Foreign Gross: $110,000
Total Gross: $426,000
See the Box Office Page for more info.
William Powell’s salary: $100,000
Kay Francis’ salary: $27,000
Private Lives (1931, with Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery), The Rich Are Always With Us (1932, Ruth Chatterton and George Brent), Red-Headed Woman (1932, Jean Harlow and Chester Morris)…some of Hollywood’s best romantic comedies were made in the early 1930’s. These polished, sophisticated, and racy films were among the most popular of the time, and Jewel Robbery was no exception.
Man Wanted (1932), Kay’s first film for Warner Brothers, had showcased Kay Francis in a new light. Suddenly she had a more modern, urban appeal to audiences that rivaled Ruth Chatterton’s. At Paramount, she had either vamped out her leading men, or played second lead for them. With her more complicated screen image perfected by her second film for Warner Brothers, Street of Women (1932), the studio paired her with her old Paramount costar, William Powell, of whom she appeared in four films with previously.
The film almost seems to serve as a pre-test for Kay before her marvelous work in Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble In Paradise (1932), but to associate Jewel Robbery with any other film takes away from its distinction. Jewel Robbery was originated and produced first, and it’s one of the better comedies movies of the early 1930’s, with Kay adapting a more slinky sort of Norma Shearer kind of sex appeal.
Based on Ladislaus Fodor’s “Ekzerrabalas a Vaci-uccaban,” Jewel Robbery was directed by William Dieterle (The White Angel, 1936, was one of five movies Kay and Dieterle made together), and began filming March 2, 1932, concluding in early April. Released July 21, 1932, “William Powell is ideally cast,” thought Variety. “The same may be said for Kay Francis as the beautiful but bored and eccentric wife of an elderly banker.”
Jewel Robbery was a tremendous hit with critics and audiences in the summer of 1932. Today, it has lost none of its spark, and is one of the best films to use for introducing friends to classic Hollywood, particularly pre-code. The movie is straight and to the point, running only sixty some minutes which seem to blissfully end almost as quickly as they begin. Remade in 1943 with Anne Crawford and Donald Stewart, The Peterville Diamond failed by a long shot to meet the critical and public acclaim as its predecessor.
Perfection like this can never be remade or replaced. Jewel Robbery was made at the right time, with the right people, and by the right people. They should have left it at that.
From Photoplay, July 1932.
Technology is vastly improving the modern world in Vienna. In a polished jewelry shop, a new state-of-the-art burglary system has just been installed. Invisible lasers bounce off of mirrors strategically placed around the shop. If trespassed, an alarm will trigger, notifying the police immediately.
Unfortunately for this shop, the installation has occurred a little to late. While the system is being installed, the shop is robbed.
Baroness Teri is the wife of Baron Franz von Hohenfels, worth about eight-million. She’s bored with all that money can get her, including her stuffy, old husband with “chronic gout.” She is an openly-admitted shallow soul, who cares only about furs and jewelry, and her luck has just been tapped again. Franz is brining her to a jewelry shop to purchased her the Excelsior Diamond, which the owner of the shop plans on selling for $50,000.
Franz is not impressed enough to shell out enough money for that, and drives the price down to $30,000. Teri and her best friend, Marianne, go crazy over it. Marianne tells everyone in the shop how lucky Teri is that her own husband is buying her the ring “in the most respectable way!”
Unfortunately for these shallow snobs, a “fashionable, debonair young-man” walks into the shop, followed by about ten others, and they proceed to rob the shop blind. But this is anything but your standard jewel robbery. The robber passes out marijuana to the unsuspecting victims, plays music, and is very polite and frank about the situation, all of which arouse Teri.
He takes off, locking Franz and Count Andre (whom Teri is having an affair with), alone in the safe, and being persuaded by Teri’s charm to leave her alone in the shop, though this might connect her with the robbery.
The police show up, as does Marianne, who had left just prior to the robber’s entering of the store. Teri is smitten, much to her husband’s dismay. Her and Marianne are all excited about what has just happened, but when Marianne presses Teri to find out more about the robber, Teri purposely gives her inaccurate descriptions.
Teri and Marianne return to Teri’s mansion. In Teri’s bedroom they find a massive bouquet of roses, and when Teri asks the maid when they were delivered, she insists they never were. Teri, frenzy over the fact that the robber has returned to her home, soon panics that he might have taken her jewelry, but finds everything in the safe, including her excelsior diamond, which he had stolen from her in the robbery.
Suspicious noises around the room have Marianne leaving in fear, and Teri all alone. She soon hears a record go on, and the robber steps out from behind the curtains. They flirt and come close to a kiss, but Teri pulls herself together and insists that he must take the Excelsior Diamond back. He refuses, and there’s a loud knock at the door from a detective.
The robber hides in another room, and Teri opens the door. The investigation leads to the fact that Teri is a valuable suspect, and he plans to arrest her, though the robber steps out in the neck of time, gun in hand. Unfortunately, two police officers jump out and grab him.
All get into a car and go back to a dark location, and when the lights go on, Teri is inside of the robber’s luxurious apartment. She realizes the whole thing was a gag in order to kidnap her, and, as usual, she is smitten by his charm.
Unfortunately, the real detectives arrive at his door. They set the scene up to make it appear that Teri was kidnapped, and she and the robber plan to meet again in Nice. He gets away after a lengthy chase on the rooftops of the city, and everyone is in a panic over Teri’s situation.
She tells everyone that she assumes a vacation is in need to relax herself. Her location, well, she’ll go to Nice on the next possible train.
She moves into the camera, asking us for our silence.
After so-so material in Man Wanted (1932) and Street of Women (1932), this was the exact type of refreshing role Kay Francis’ career needed. There’s no melodrama here; no tears; no harshly dramatic circumstances. In Jewel Robbery she plays a woman of a completely different mold.
As a comedian, Kay was adept when put in the right part in a good movie. This is the definitive example of that. She gets to wear furs and show off her talent for fashion, and the character is suited to her screen strengths. But it is her lines and her performance which really make the audience take notice of her. Here she has once again split the honors with William Powell, and what a team they make together.
Like their previous efforts, Jewel Robbery moves quickly, ending just as soon as it begins. And while Kay photographs lovely as usual, William Powell has some of his best cinematography. He’s a little slimmer, and even more clean cut then one remembers him.
In the beginning, just after the first robbery, we’re introduced to Kay as she is taking a bath and getting ready to start her day well into the afternoon. It reminds one of her waking up at 5:00 PM with Lilyan Tashman in Girls About Town (1931).
Helen Vinson, in her film debut, plays the role of Marianne opposite Kay’s Teri with the skill of any screen veteran. She’s a perfect giddy match for Kay’s bored baroness; slightly envying everything Teri is fed up with.
As usual, Henry Kolker plays the rich, stuffy husband.
William Dieterle was one of Kay’s best and most frequent directors, and with Jewel Robbery they scored their greatest triumph.
What they have tried to accomplish in transplanting Laszlo Fodor’s Viennese comedy, “Jewel Robbery,” to the cinema pastures is probably more praiseworthy than the way they have accomplished it. The new resident at the Strand has most of the staples of excellent warm-weather comedy. The situation is as capricious, the dialogue as sprightly and the settings as sinfully luxurious as they ought to be. William Powell as the gentlemanly thief can kiss a woman’s hand—while relieving it of a diamond bracelet—or pay a compliment or mock the constabulary as prettily as an amusing scoundrel should in an amusing romantic comedy. Kay Francis, who can be a good actress, is a definitely bad actress opposite Mr. Powell, and that may be part of the reason why “Jewel Robbery” with its several endowments is only mild.
The robber, who has learned his trade in Paris, is none of your sub-machine gun dullards. He loots Hollander’s jewel shop with the delicate touch of a surgeon. There are four ravishing blondes on as many corners to take care of the police, drugged cigarettes for his victims, and epigrams. The Baroness Teri, who is as weary of her lovers as of her husband, has a first-hand description of the notorious thief but cannot help the police.
That night, while the city is being scoured for the daring burglar, the baroness finds her boudoir invaded, successively, by a box of flowers, her stolen jewels and the faultlessly attired bandit himself. The rest is impetuous love and impetuous flight, midnight alarums, more epigrams and a piquant rendezvous in the robber’s apartment.
All this is nervous, brittle comedy of a sort that is sufficiently novel in the films to be stimulating. Miss Francis interprets the countess as if she were giving an imitation of an imitation, and her performance is one in which her usual intelligence and sincerity are strangely absent. An excellent subsidiary cast has been assembled, and William Dieterle’s direction has the proper daintiness and wit.
Originally published in the New York Times, July 23, 1932.
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