William Powell

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.

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Manhattan Melodrama

Childhood friends Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable as an adult, Mickey Rooney as a child) and Jim Wade (William Powell as an adult, Jimmy Butler as a child) grow up together facing a great deal of adversity. But even from an early age, it’s pretty obvious that these kids are on completely different paths in life. Blackie and Jim stay close over the years, but their lives head in completely different directions. While Jim studies hard and grows up to be District Attorney, Blackie ends up running his own gambling club.

Even though they’re on different sides of the law, Blackie has the utmost respect for Jim and when Jim is named District Attorney, Blackie wants to go out with him to celebrate. Unfortunately, Blackie can’t make it to the celebration at the last minute, but he sends his girlfriend Eleanor (Myrna Loy) in his place. Eleanor and Jim have a lovely night together and it leaves Eleanor wishing Blackie could be more like Jim. Realizing that Blackie will never change, Eleanor leaves him. A few months pass and Jim runs into Eleanor again at a party. This time, it turns into a real romance and it isn’t long before they’re married. Although Blackie wishes them well, one of his cohorts unwittingly puts Jim in a compromising position that could cost Jim everything he’s worked so hard for.

Manhattan Melodrama is rather notorious for being the movie John Dillinger had seen before being killed while leaving a movie theater. But classic movie fans may best remember it for being the first on-screen pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell. Of the non-Thin Man movies Myrna Loy and William Powell made together, Manhattan Melodrama may be my favorite. It may not be a comedy like The Thin Man, but Loy and Powell still positively sparkle together and I just adore the scene where their characters meet for the first time when she jumps into his taxi cab. It’s absolutely no wonder they went on to make so many more movies together.

The great thing about Manhattan Melodrama is that Myrna Loy doesn’t get just one of her best co-stars, she gets two of them. As phenomenal as Loy and Powell always were together, Loy and Clark Gable are pretty delightful together,too. All three stars deliver very strong performances. When you take a cast like that, add tight direction from W.S. Van Dyke and a story that delivers on the melodrama, but has enough grit to be anything but ordinary, and you’ve got a really effective yet complex little drama. Usually, I tend to find MGM’s attempts at gangster films to be pretty weak attempts to latch on to the popularity of Warner Brothers’ gangster movies, but Manhattan Melodrama is definitely an exception.

What’s on TCM: March 2014

Mary Astor Humprhey Bogart Maltese FalconHappy March!  31 Days of Oscar may be coming to an end, but there are still plenty of other great things to look forward to in the upcoming month.  What I’m most excited to see returning to TCM is Carson on TCM!  You may remember that back in July 2013, TCM aired a number of classic Johnny Carson Tonight Show interviews with stars such as Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, George Burns, and Bette Davis.  This time around, we have interviews with Gene Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, and Gregory Peck (just to name a few) to look forward to.  I absolutely loved watching the interviews back in July, so I’m very excited to see more.

After taking a break last month for 31 Days of Oscar, Friday Night Spotlight returns with a series about Food in the Movies selected by Anthony Bourdain.

March’s Star of the Month will be the one and only Mary Astor.  A 24 hour marathon of her films will start very Wednesday night this month and continue into the following Thursday

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Evelyn Prentice (1934)

Evelyn Prentice Myrna Loy William PowellEvelyn Prentice (Myrna Loy) adores her husband John (William Powell), but John is an attorney and often has to work long hours and travel for work.  Lately, he’s been hard at work defending Mrs. Harrison (Rosalind Russell) and Evelyn really misses spending time with her husband.  One night, she goes to a nightclub with her friend Amy (Una Merkel) and meets a man named Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens), who claims to know her from somewhere.

Lawrence doesn’t actually know Evelyn, but he knows she’s married to a prominent attorney and plans to trap her in a scandal and blackmail her.  The next day, he sends Evelyn a book of his poetry and invites her to tea.  Evelyn isn’t at all impressed by Lawrence, but she’s feeling lonely with John out of town so when Amy accepts his invitation on her behalf, she meets with him.  She continues seeing him while John is away, but after John returns, she begins to suspect that he has been having an affair with Mrs. Harrison.  A heartbroken Evelyn goes to see Lawrence again, but ultimately decides to stay true to John and tries to end things off with Lawrence.

Lawrence isn’t about to let Evelyn get off that easily, though.  He reminds her of some letters she had written to him and demands $15,000 for them.  During the dispute, Evelyn shoots Lawrence with his own gun and leaves.  The next day, news of his murder is all over the front page, but nobody suspects Evelyn.  However, Lawrence’s other girlfriend Judith (Isabel Jewell) is considered the top suspect.  John agrees to defend Judith and during the trial, Evelyn’s guilt eats away at her.  Near the end of the trial, Evelyn tries to come clean about the whole thing.  But fortunately for them, John has a plan to get both Evelyn and Judith off the hook.

Movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy are always a hit with me.  Although it’s much more fun to watch them playing happily married couples in more lighthearted movies, Evelyn Prentice is still a darn good movie.  It’s very smartly written and well acted.  Myrna Loy did an excellent job of conveying the guilt Evelyn was feeling and Isabel Jewell and Una Merkel were both great in their supporting roles.  It’s another one of those wonderful underrated gems that I just love finding.

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.

What’s on TCM: December 2012

It’s hard to believe we’re already down to the final month of 2012, but leave it to TCM to end the year on a high note!  There is so much going on that I’m excited for.  First and foremost, we get Barbara Stanwyck as Star of the Month!  Every Wednesday night in December will kick off a 24-hour block of Stanwyck movies, and since I know a lot of my readers are big Stanwyck fans, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of room on your DVRs.  Every Friday night this month will be a salute to director Ernst Lubitsch, so you know every Friday night is going to be good.

Naturally, you can expect plenty of Christmas movies throughout the month.  Also worth noting is Baby Peggy night on December 3rd.  Baby Peggy is one of the last surviving stars from the silent era and was recently the subject of the documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, which will be airing on TCM that night along with some of her movies.

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Mister Roberts (1955)

Captain Morton (James Cagney) may officially be the captain of the USS Reluctant, but as far as the crew is concerned, Lieutenant Doug Roberts (Henry Fonda) is the man in charge.  Captain Morton is very strict and routinely denies the crew their small rewards over very minor infractions.  Doug, on the other hand, is much kinder and often ignores the Captain’s orders to make the crew’s life more bearable.  However, the USS Reluctant isn’t seeing any of the action of World War II and Doug would much rather be on active duty than be stuck on that boat.  His closest friend Doc (William Powell) tries to reassure him that his being on the ship means the world to the crew, but that doesn’t stop him from requesting a transfer.

In order for Doug to get a transfer, Captain Morton would have to agree to it and Morton knows that he would look bad if Doug were to leave so he refuses to sign his letters.  Captain Morton hasn’t even let the crew have leave in a very long time, so behind the Captain’s back, Doug bribes an official to get the crew granted one night of leave.  When the Captain finds out about it, he threatens to deny the whole crew their leave unless Doug promises to stop undermining him and to stop requesting transfers.  Doug reluctantly agrees, and the crew is mystified to see Doug suddenly playing into the Captain’s hand.

The crew thinks Doug is just gunning to get a promotion and starts giving him the cold shoulder.  But on the night of V-E Day, Doug listens to a speech on the radio that inspires him to stand up to the Captain.  While the Captain confronts Doug in his office, the intercom is accidentally left on and the whole crew finds out the price Doug paid for them to have their leave.  To show their gratitude, the crew decides to get Doug the transfer he wants so badly.  Before he leaves for Okinawa, the crew presents Doug with their own special award and he finally realizes just how much he really meant to everybody.

With Doug off in Okinawa, Frank Pulver (Jack Lemmon) takes over Doug’s old position on the ship. Frank is pretty intimidated by the Captain, so he can’t bring himself to go against the Captain the way Doug used to.  But when the crew gets word that Doug has been killed, Frank finally finds the nerve to stand up to the Captain.

Genre-wise, Mister Roberts is really in a league of its own.  It deals with World War II, but there aren’t any big battle scenes.  It’s got comedy, but it’s not a farce like Dr. Strangelove.  And for all its lighthearted moments, when it was serious, it was very heartfelt and touching.  It’s very hard to combine all of those genres and do all of them well, but Mister Roberts managed to pull it off.

The part of Doug Roberts is such a perfect Henry Fonda role.  He’s that “everyman fighting for what’s right” type of character that Fonda is best remembered for playing.  As good as Fonda is, Jack Lemmon really steals the show at the end of the movie.  His performance in the scene where he reads Doug’s letters aloud to the crew is so genuinely moving.  He’s great in the rest of the movie, too, but boy did he ever hit it out of the park in that scene.

I love everything about Mister Roberts.  I don’t know why on Earth I put off seeing it for such a long time.