Jewel Robbery (1932)

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Every month, my blog friend Karen of Shadows & Satin and I pick a pre-Code movie airing on TCM. 

This month TCM features some great pre-Codes that I’ve written about before:

But for my pick this month I went with one of my favourite screen couples, Kay Francis and William Powell. They made six movies together, and I’ve previously reviewed their troubled relationship in the thriller For the Defense (1930) and their heartbreaking doomed romance in One Way Passage (1932). William Dieterle’s Jewel Robbery is a frothy, witty, naughty and playful Lubitsch-style romance between a Viennese Baroness and the sophisticated thief who steals her jewels and her heart.

Baroness Teri (Francis), her excruciatingly dull husband (Henry Kolker) and her boring and pompous admirer, cabinet minister Anton (Andre Lueget), are shopping for her diamond ring in a swanky jewelry store when the notoriously elusive “Robber” (Powell) and his gang hold the joint up. The Robber bristles when Teri calls him a “thief” because he considers himself a gentleman and top shelf criminal, one who finds violence declasse, puts on a waltz record as he cleans out the inventory, charms the guard Lenz (Spencer Charters) into carrying out cases of stolen loot, and hands out pot-laced cigarettes to pacify his victims.

He has Teri making big heart eyes by the end of the heist, and he’s just as smitten with her. She lies in her witness description, shares the juicy details of her newfound excitement with her bestie Marianne (Helen Vinson) in some very funny exchanges, and then The Robber breaks into her place with flowers and returns her ring. He claims to need a place to hide for the night but with one of his crew (Alan Mowbray) he tricks Teri into coming to his secret apartment. There, the couple’s witty whirlwind courtship escalates, Teri surprises Robber with a double-cross, and by the time the police arrive she’s ready to leave her lush life behind to join him at Nice.

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The decadence and daring of it all is enchanting. In the opening moments we learn the Robber has beat the highest tech light-beam alarm setup, later he tells Teri he’s “fifteen years old” because that’s when he really started living, and that he has so many names she can just think of one that fits. He takes smooth operating to a new level but makes it art and poetry. Meanwhile, Teri sits in her giant tub complaining how empty life is with all her jewels and furs, the Baron’s countless millions, the spa-like bathroom, masseuse and full beauty squad (one woman even carries Teri to her hair and makeup chair). Francis, the fashion plate of that era, gets one of her most ultra-glam and structurally implausible wardrobes. One outfit even fools you into thinking she’s about to emerge naked from behind a screen. She throws him off his game when she praises brutal men and later, when she says she responds to force, he throws her off an upper level onto a bed. It’s all playfully naughty and no actual intimacy is shown, but the most adult thing these two end up doing is moving past their obsession with acquiring shiny objects, to realize the value of living for the moment with each other.

Jewel Robbery is about as pre-Code as you can get, making an adulteress and crook this lovable and smart, and making flirting, cheating, drugs and crime look this fun, fulfilling and glamorous. It’s a must if you love Powell and Francis, and it’s on TCM January 13th.

Visit Karen at Shadows & Satin to see what she picked for this month’s pre-Code.

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10 thoughts on “Jewel Robbery (1932)”

  1. I love this pick, especially because I have started watching Jewel Robbery several times and have never gotten very far. I am inspired by your first-rate write-up to stop putting it in the DVD player when I’m going to bed, and try again when I’m wide awake! Also, I didn’t realize that Francis and Powell appeared in so many movies together — I didn’t know that they were in For the Defense — I’m pretty sure that’s in the collection I recently acquired! Another film for the must-watch list. Now, I’m off to go re-read your post on The Smiling Lieutenant (which is how I knew that you hadn’t picked it!) 🙂

    1. They were a great couple so I’m glad they made all those pictures. Make yourself a Francis-Powell marathon sometime and I think a martini or some such classy beverage. Smiling Lt. is so fun!!
      p.s. I’m the same about late night movies, never able to fini…zzzzzz.

    1. When you look up suave, debonair and elegant I’m pretty sure the picture in the dictionary is Powell. And I love when these stories made the most of daring and naughty jokes and situations, it doesn’t feel dated.

  2. This sounds like a lot of fun. I’ve seen this movie listed on TCM’s schedule and heard good things about it, but somehow, I’ve never gotten around to watching it (maybe because the title is a bit generic). After reading your review, I made sure to set my DVR for the next airing. Thanks for recommending it!

    1. I like the combo of Powell-Francis, totally different than he had with Loy, these two had more of a romance angle and did different types of stories. This one is a lot of fun, hope you like it.

  3. This sounds like almost too much fun. I love William Powell and Helen Vinson, so this is a Must See for me!

    Also, when did using the word “joint” fall out of fashion when describing a location? I love it when old-time gangsters refer to high-end apartments or restaurants (or jewellery stores) as “joints”, like you did in in your review.

    1. I know, especially when it’s a classy joint, that juxtaposition is the best. It’s a classy adult movie too, so check it out when you can. Thanks!

  4. I think we think of William Powell only as a pairing with Myrna Loy but he also paired up with Kay Francis very well. They both had that elegance to them.

    Tam

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