Kay Francis

Pre-Code Essentials: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise

Plot

When pickpocket Lily (Miriam Hopkins) meets notorious thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), it’s love at first heist. They meet in Venice, where they are each posing as nobility in order to rob rich people. After they take turns robbing each other blind, Lily and Gaston fall madly in love and become partners in crime. As they steal their way to Paris, they set their sights on robbing perfumer Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). While at the opera one night, Gaston steals an extremely valuable purse Colet had been carrying and when she offers a reward for its return, Lily and Gaston decide they’d get more money by returning it.

As Gaston goes to return the purse and collect the reward, he pretends to be Gaston Lavalle and charms his way into becoming Colet’s personal secretary so he can have easy access to her money. Lily naturally becomes Gaston’s assistant and isn’t impressed when she realizes there’s a romantic spark between Gaston and Colet. Even though Colet doesn’t believe in marriage and has turned down many other suitors, she can’t resist Gaston. But it isn’t long before some of Colet’s colleagues begin to realize that here new secretary looks awfully familiar…


My Thoughts

Lubitsch. Hopkins. Francis. Can you ask for any better ingredients for a delightful pre-code comedy? Trouble in Paradise is the cinematic equivalent of drinking a glass of champagne. It’s sharp, witty, light, and oh so sophisticated. This is definitely one of the all-time great comedies; it’s always a pleasure to revisit this one.

1932 was truly the year for Kay Francis to make witty movies where her character falls in love with thieves. This was the same year she made Jewel Robbery with William Powell, where her character falls madly in love with the thief who comes to rob the jewelry store she’s shopping in.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

As Lily and Gaston have dinner together in Venice and essentially seduce each other by robbing each other, particularly when he reveals he’s stolen the garter right off her leg.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

So far this month, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about movies where you end up rooting for the criminals, even though censors didn’t want moviegoers to be rooting for the criminals. Trouble in Paradise may very well be one of the ultimate examples of that. Lily and Gaston aren’t even thieves who are sorry for what they do or steal out of desperation, they steal for the sheer pleasure of it. But Trouble in Paradise‘s writing is so incredibly witty and the premise is presented in such an outrageous way, it’s easy to want to go along for the ride. The love triangle aspect of the plot was also pretty racy by 1932′s standards.

Pre-Code Essentials: Jewel Robbery (1932)

Jewel Robbery 1932

Plot

Baroness Teri von Horhenfels (Kay Francis) seems like the kind of woman that has it all. Or at least she would have it all if her husband weren’t so painfully dull. She tries to alleviate her boredom by having affairs and seeking excitement any way she can. But there is one thing she loves more than any man and that’s jewelry, which her husband gladly buys for her. While paying a visit to a very exclusive jewelry store to buy a new ring, they’re joined by a jewel robber (William Powell) and his gang. This thief has his own very unique style. He’s the wittiest, most charming robber in Vienna and has the distinct touch of offering marijuana to his witnesses so they won’t call the police.

Teri can’t help but be enchanted by the thief, even after he steals her new 28-carat ring. She isn’t offered the marijuana since she tells him that she has no interest in having him arrested. When she returns home, Teri and her friend are shocked to find her jewelry safe has been broken into, but are even more shocked to notice that nothing has been stolen. In fact, something has been left behind: her new ring. When the robber appears, she insists that he take the ring back since she could never be seen wearing it. He refuses and before long, a detective shows up to take both of them away. But it’s all part of a rouse to get her back to the robber’s apartment because he’s leaving for Nice soon and wants her to join him.


My Thoughts

It’s awfully hard to resist a pairing of William Powell and Kay Francis. Francis and Powell were experts at working with this kind of suave, sophisticated, witty material and although Jewel Robbery isn’t the best movie they made together (I’d give One Way Passage that distinction), it’s still an extremely amusing movie.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

The robber trying to steal the ring off of Teri’s hand.

When the police officer gets too high to be able to do his job, then gets his supervisor high and they make prank phone calls together.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

A well-to-do woman who wants to leave her husband to be with a suave thief is pure pre-code material, but what makes this an essential pre-code in my book is the drug use. I can think of other pre-code movies that deal with drug use, Three on a Match is a big one, but I mostly think of it as being shown in a cautionary or unflattering way. Jewel Robbery not only actually shows people smoking marijuana, it shows people having a darn good time doing so. This was Cheech and Chong levels of weed enjoyment.

What’s on TCM: July 2014

Maureen O'HaraHappy July, everyone!  With summer now in full swing, TCM has plenty of great movies to watch on hot summer nights.  Maureen O’Hara is July’s Star of the Month and will be featured every Tuesday night this month.  TCM will also be commemorating the hundredth anniversary of World War I every Friday by showing some of the best WWI movies, including The Big ParadeSergeant YorkGrand Illusion, and All Quiet on the Western Front, just to name a few.

The night I am most looking forward to this month is July 10th.  TCM will be featuring six classic documentaries such as Salesman, Harlan County USA, and Sans Soleil. I really like documentaries and that night’s movies is a nice mix of things I’m looking forward to re-watching and ones I’ve been wanting to see.

Now, on to the rest of the schedule…

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What’s on TCM: January 2014

Joan CrawfordHappy new year!  I hope you all had a very happy holiday season. I had a lot of fun revisiting all my favorite holiday movies in December, but now it’s time to get back to watching more regular movies and luckily, TCM is going to make that transition very easy for me.

Break out the shoulder pads, eyebrow pencils, and Pepsi because Joan Crawford is the Star of the Month!  A marathon of Joan Crawford movies will start every Thursday night at 8:00 PM and each week will focus on a different era of Joan’s career.

This month’s installment of Friday Night Spotlight will feature Science in the Movies and is going to be hosted by Dr. Sean Michael Carroll, PhD, a senior research associate at the California Institute of Technology’s Physics department.

Other noteworthy things happening in January include Judge Judy as Guest Programmer, a celebration of past and present recipients of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and 24 hours of movies by Columbia Pictures to commemorate the studio’s 90th anniversary.  Now, let’s take a more detailed look at the line-up…

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Mandalay (1934)

Mandalay 1934 PosterWhen gunrunner Tony Evans (Ricardo Corez) leaves his girlfriend Tanya (Kay Francis) behind for a job, he leaves her in the care of his boss Nick (Warner Oland).  Nick wants her to work at his nightclub and, feeling betrayed, Tanya initially refuses to do have anything to do with Nick and his club.  But then she realizes that using her looks and working at the club might actually help her get out of there.  While working at the club, she becomes known as Spot White, notorious woman of affairs.  In fact, she’s so notorious that the police commissioner wants her to leave the country.  And she does, but not without blackmailing him for some money first.

Tanya gets on a boat headed for Mandalay and changes her name to Marjorie Lang.  Not long after getting on board, she cuts herself, which leads her to meet Dr. Gregory Burton (Lyle Talbot).  Like Marjorie, Gregory is looking to start a new life.  Gregory once killed a patient when he performed surgery while drunk, so now he wants to go to an area facing a deadly fever outbreak to make amends.  Marjorie and Gregory fall in love during the voyage, but Marjorie’s happiness is interrupted when she finds out Tony is also on board.

Tony wants to get back together with Marjorie, but she wants nothing to do with him.  But when Tony gets word that the police are after him, he fakes his own death and Marjorie is blamed for it.  But after her name is cleared, she discovers Tony is still alive and this time, she really does kill him.

Mandalay may not be anything substantial, but it is a very entertaining way to spend a little over an hour.  It’s over the top and trashy, but in the most wonderful way.  If you like Kay Francis, you’re going to love her in Mandalay.  She’s really at her pre-code best here.  And if you’re a fan of pre-codes in general, Mandalay is a must-see.  It’s got just about everything — prostitution, alcoholism, murder

Jewel Robbery (1932)

Baroness Teri (Kay Francis) has a life that many would envy.  She’s married to Baron Franz (Henry Kolker), who can easily afford to buy her all the furs and jewelery she could ever want.  There’s just one problem — he’s incredibly boring.  Teri desperately needs some excitement in her life, so she openly dates other men, but gets bored with them pretty quickly, too.

When Teri and Franz go to a jewelery store so that Franz can buy Teri a very large diamond ring, the store is robbed by an unnamed robber (William Powell).  This is no ordinary jewel thief, though.  He’s very suave, charming, and has the unusual habit of giving marijuana to the people he robs so they won’t call the police.  And it just so happens that this robber is exactly the type of man  Teri has been longing for.  He flirts with her as he steals her new ring from her, and she’s so enchanted with him that she doesn’t even need the marijuana to stop her from talking to the cops.

When Teri gets back home, she finds some mysterious flowers waiting for her and discovers that her jewelry safe has been opened.  However, nothing has been stolen.  In fact, something has been added to it — the ring that had just been stolen from her.  The robber sneaks up to her room and Teri tries to get him to take the ring back since there’s no way for her to wear it without raising suspicions.  He refuses, and it isn’t long before there’s a knock at the door from Detective Fritz (Alan Mowbray), who arrests Teri for being an accomplice to the robber.

It just so happens that Detective Fritz isn’t a detective after all, he’s actually working for the robber.  Fritz brings Teri to the robber’s apartment, where he spends the night wooing her and she falls even more deeply under his spell.  They make plans to run away to Nice together, but before they can leave, the real police show up.  The robber and his gang escape, but first, they tie Teri to a chair so the cops won’t accuse her of being an accomplice.  When all is said and done, her name stays clear, but she announces that she could use a vacation to recover from her “ordeal.”  Perhaps some time in Nice would do the trick…

If you know someone who thinks old movies were all super sanitized and boring, Jewel Robbery is the perfect movie to prove them wrong.  With its witty banter, infidelity, jewel heists, and drug use, Jewel Robbery is perfectly pre-code from start to finish.  The chemistry between Kay Francis and William Powell is phenomenal and it’s very hard not to laugh at the scenes of the jewelery store’s security guard acting high as a kite after the robber gives him that joint.  There’s nothing about it I didn’t like.  It’s a total delight to watch and is absolutely essential pre-code viewing.

Raffles (1930)

The Amateur Cracksman is a pro at breaking into safes and making off with jewelery, but he always manages to stay out of reach of Scotland Yard. The real identity of the Amateur Cracksman is none other than A.J. Raffles (Ronald Colman).  Raffles has recently fallen in love with Gwen (Kay Francis) and is about to give up the safecracking racket and go straight so that he and Gwen can be married.  Just after he thinks he’s pulled his last heist, his friend Bunny (Bramwell Fletcher) attempts suicide over a gambling debt. So to help his friend out, Raffles decides to go for one more heist.

Raffles sets his sights on stealing a very valuable necklace belonging to Lady Kitty Melrose (Alison Skipworth), so he and Bunny attend a party at the Melrose estate and Raffles goes to work trying to get in good with Kitty.  But Raffles isn’t the only one after the Melrose necklace. A burglar named Crawshaw (John Rogers) also has plans to steal it, but Scotland Yard found out about his plan and Inspector McKenzie (David Torrence) comes to the house to let everyone know about it.  Later that night, Crawshaw breaks in and gets the necklace, but Raffles manages to take the necklace from Crawshaw.

The police nab Crawshaw on the spot, but he vows to come after Raffles someday. The next morning, Raffles heads off to London, feeling like he isn’t good enough for Gwen. Gwen doesn’t know that Raffles is the Amateur Cracksman, but she soon begins to put the pieces together and she still loves him.  Meanwhile, Inspector McKenzie is also beginning to figure out who Raffles really is and decides to let Crawshaw go free, hoping that he will go to London looking for Raffles.

Sure enough, Crawshaw does go to London, but Gwen gets there before him and warns him about McKenzie’s plan.  McKenzie is also in town, just waiting for Crawshaw to get Raffles to confess. When Crawshaw finally shows up, ready to kill, Raffles is so smooth that he manages to talk him down, return the necklace to the Melrose family, collect the reward money, confess to being the Amateur Cracksman, and escape to run off to Paris with Gwen.

If you’re a fan of either Ronald Colman or Kay Francis, you will absolutely want to see Raffles. They made an excellent team and both of them were perfect for their respective roles. I would have liked to have seen more of Kay in it, though. Raffles also features some very beautiful cinematography thanks to Gregg Toland, who was a co-cinematographer on it.  Even though this was fairly early in Toland’s career, it’s very clear that he had a bright future ahead of him.  If you’re in the mood for a short but clever heist film, Raffles comes very highly recommended. It’s slick, stylish, fast-paced, and sophisticated.