Kay FRANCIS William POWELL: “JEWEL ROBBERY”

Baroness Teri (Kay Francis) has a veritable army of servants to attend to her every need.  Jewel Robbery (Warner Brothers, 1932), directed by William Dieterle. They bathe her . . .

On Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, TCM will welcome back Robert Osborne with a selection of movies that sounds like the cream of “Bob’s Picks,” where Mr. Osborne would treat viewers to a night of his personal favorites and/or guilty pleasures.  I think it’s safe to assume that the first film in TCM’s prime time lineup this night, starting at 8 PM EST, “Jewel Robbery” (WB, 1932), is the start of an evening of favorites, as it stars two of his favorite actors, Kay Francis and William Powell.

Robert Osborne deserves a considerable amount of credit when it comes to Kay Francis — his championing of her work by making many of her films regularly available on TCM broadcasts, including Kay Francis “Star of the Month” and “birthday” promotions, and his frequent mentioning of this vastly underrated star — who was all but forgotten (as she wished) until Osborne and  TCM resurrected her work and reputation — has given a new generation (or 2) the chance to see for themselves why she was for a time in the 1930s the most popular and highest paid actress in Hollywood.

If this was all that Robert Osborne accomplished in his time at TCM, I’d say it was a job well done, but of course Kay is the tip of the iceberg.  With Mr. Osborne, TCM has made the best of American motion pictures from the Hollywood studio era not just available, but fashionable once again.  Thank you, and Best Wishes Bob, and Welcome Back!

These images from Jewel Robbery need little or no description.  It is a slight tale of a beautiful, bored aristocrat who falls for a jewel robber.  But it has Kay Francis and William Powell — the two most glamorous stars of the 1930s, hands down.  I need say nothing more than enjoy the film tonight and these images in the meantime . . .

. . . Baroness Teri receives her morning rub down . . .

 . . . they dress her . . .

 . . . and carry her to her private salon . . .

 . . . style her hair — the finishing touch to ready her for the day of hard leisure ahead.

 . . . which she begins at her jeweller’s shop, below,

 . . . and she meets an interesting stranger.

The lovelorn baroness is smitten . . .

 . . . the handsome stranger turns out to be a common , er . . not so common jewel robber (in the film he is known only as “The Robber”).which, as it turns out, does not dim her ardor for him . . .

The Robber has deposited his stolen goods in the safe of Baroness Teri, who finds herself “caught” in a compromising position.“Show me your jewels, will you???”As The Robber makes his getaway in a police limo, the Baroness tells us she will join him in Nice . . .“In Nice!!!”

* * *

Jewel Robbery was the fifth picture Kay Francis and William Powell made together since early 1930 when both were contract players at Paramount Studios.  They made the switch to a new studio when Warner Brothers pulled their own jewel robbery of sorts by signing Francis, Powell and Paramount’s reigning queen at the time, Ruth Chatterton, to lucrative long-term contracts in 1932.

Francis had nearly completed her contract with Paramount in a grueling 1931 schedule, making nine films including loan-outs to MGM and RKO.  She may have been the hardest-working leading lady in Hollywood in ’31, and 1932 would not give her a breather: four more films (of which Jewel Robbery was the third) for her new home, the WB , one last film to finish her contractual obligation to Paramount (Strangers in Love), and loan outs to MGM (Cynara) and back again to Paramount for what would prove to be the best film of her career, the sparkling gem Trouble in Paradise, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

It’s tempting to view Jewel Robbery as a poor man’s Trouble in Paradise, and not entirely without justification.  Of course it is not as ambitious a film — its thin plot revolves around an unlikely (anywhere but Hollywood, that is) romance of a thief and an aristocrat, but they are at least a traditional couple.  “Trouble” doesn’t exactly go into the realm of a menage a trois, but it involves a romantic triangle with two thieves.  In “Trouble,” Francis is a wealthy, but hard-working (beautiful and fashionable) business woman, not a bored baroness.  The male member of that triangle (Herbert Marshall) finds himself torn between good and bad — between crime and the straight life, and the choice of a sweet, normal brunette and the blonde sociopath (Miriam Hopkins) who is his partner in crme and in bed.  It contains far more potent material for plot development than Jewel Robbery, and is directed by Ernst Lubitsch — who else could handle such an outrageous plot as deftly?  It really is an unfair comparison.

In reality, it may simply have been Warner Brothers’ desire to make a Paramount-style Kay Francis/William Powell picture with the type of sparkle and sophistication that Paramount regularly brought to the screen and, ironically, did again when they borrowed Francis for Trouble in Paradise shortly after she completed Jewel Robbery for Warners.  How that must have galled the Brothers, in light of the glowing reception received by Trouble in Paradise, not only highly regarded at the time, but now considered a classic of its kind.

But the Brothers Warner would extract a measure of satisfaction from their next pairing of Kay Francis and William Powell, another “classic of its kind,” a film they released only three months after the premier of Jewel Robbery in New York, the milestone mini-melodrama/soap operetta without song, One Way Passage.

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About Gene Zonarich

I'm the King of the silent pictures -- I'm hidin' out 'til talkies blow over . . .
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4 Responses to Kay FRANCIS William POWELL: “JEWEL ROBBERY”

  1. Excellent post. I love Kay Francis.

    • Thanks. Me too. I had barely heard of Francis before seeing the “Complicated Women” doc, then got hooked with a Kay Francis birthday marathon on TCM 6 or 7 yrs ago — its been true love ever since . . .

  2. Excellent. I sadly missed Jewel Robbery when it aired but once again, your post is the next best thing to being there. I adore the glamorous Kay Francis, particularly in Trouble in Paradise. Your compare and contrast with that flick makes me kick myself even harder for missing Jewel Robbery on TCM.

  3. Gavin Stuart Lawson says:

    I saw this film not long after I saw One Way Passage. I’m getting to love Kay Francis. This was a completely different type of role and she was wonderful in it. She has a real charisma here that really projects well out to the camera. There was great chemistry between her and William Powell. It would be nice if a Kay Francis box set was issued, she deserves it. She was absolutely vivacious in this role. As I mentioned in my other post, it was a shame that the Hays code was instituted. Nothing good can come from censorship.

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