Pre-Code Crazy: Jewel Robbery (1932)

October is the cruelest month . . . for me trying to pick out a pre-Code to recommend on TCM!

You see, TCM’s schedule every October features lots of horror movies, from the famous to the obscure, and if you know me at all, you know that horror movies are not my bag, man. So, once I eliminated the Draculas and the Frankensteins and the White Zombies, I wasn’t left with much to choose from. Fortunately, as I reviewed the list of the month’s offerings, one movie jumped out at me – Jewel Robbery, featuring two of my favorite performers, William Powell and Kay Francis. It was a no-brainer!

In this compact, 70-minute comedy set in Vienna, Francis stars as Teri von Horhenfels, a bored Baron’s wife who gets her kicks from playing with the soap in her overly bubbled bath and bedecking her digits with flawless diamonds. Her devoted husband, the Baron (Henry Kolker) is quite a few years older than Teri and suffers from gout, and her once-thrilling marriage, after only a short period of time, has become “dull, unbearably dull.”  After sleeping until noon each day, she’s pampered by a phalanx of no less than a dozen maids, who take care of her every need, including bathing her, dressing her, and even carrying her to the chair where she is simultaneously pedicured, manicured and hair-styled. Ho hum.

As jewel-loving best buddies, Teri and Marianne are a hoot.

The action in the film begins when Teri’s bestie, Marianne (Helen Vinson), excitedly shares the news about the latest in a series of “sensational” jewelry store robberies, carried out by a gang headed by “a distinguished young man of fashionable appearance.” Teri’s immediate and only concern is to ensure that the unlucky establishment was not Hollander’s, which carries the famous 28-carat Excelsior diamond that her husband has promised to procure. Teri and Marianne travel to the jewelry store to meet the Baron – who is accompanied by Paul (Hardie Albright), a cabinet officer who just happens to be romantically involved with Teri. During a surreptitious chat in one of the jewelry store nooks, Paul is dismayed to learn that Teri has tired of him and plans to call an end to their affair. Meanwhile, the Baron balks at the fifty thousand dollar price tag on the coveted diamond ring, and haggles with the store’s owner in an effort to secure a lower price.

Powell and Francis have a delicious chemistry. This is the fifth of six films they starred in during the pre-Code era.

In the midst of these goings-on enters a handsome, impeccably garbed gent (William Powell), who promptly produces a gun and instructs those inside to put up their hands. The man (who gently corrects Teri when she calls him a thief: “Let’s say ‘robber.’ There’s more flavor to ‘robber.’) and his equally well-dressed crew, proceed to efficiently gather up all of the jewelry in the store, all the while maintaining a polite, even amiable manner. The robber (who is never named) plays a recording of the Blue Danube Waltz, offers the owner what appears to be a marijuana cigarette (“A pleasant, harmless smoke. He’ll awaken in the morning fresh and happy. With a marvelous appetite.”), compliments Teri on her frock and compares her eyes to sapphires, and even gets a late-arriving, unsuspecting security guard to carry the heavy, jewel-laden suitcases to the getaway car. By the time the robber exits the store, Teri is thoroughly entranced – and the feeling appears to be mutual. As you may imagine, this encounter isn’t the last between Teri and the robber – but I’ll let you find out for yourself what happens next.

If you’re a fan of the intelligent, urbane comedies directed by Ernst Lubitsch – like Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living, and Ninotchka, you’re likely to enjoy Jewel Robbery. To be honest, before I consulted the Internet Movie Database, I was certain that this was a Lubitsch film – it’s rife with sexual innuendo, physical gags, witty lines that you simply have to hear to appreciate, and a final shot that is guaranteed to make you smile. The film airs on TCM October 25th – if you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and tune in. And if you have, treat yourself to a rewatch – the more you see it, the more you’ll love it.

And don’t forget to visit Kristina’s blog, Speakeasy, to see what pre-Code gem she has recommended for the month of October (and to see whether we’ve broken our streak after all these years and selected the same film)!

~ by shadowsandsatin on October 3, 2021.

10 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Jewel Robbery (1932)”

  1. This is a great pick for spooky month counter-programming, not everybody is into horror and we can all enjoy a fizzy drink like this movie is. Kay Francis’s chemistry with Powell is unbeatable. Were they the most paired pre-Code stars?

    And next time I need a fake name for booking a reservation or something, I am using Teri Von Horhenfels!

    • You’re so right about the Francis-Powell chemistry — sizzling! They may just be the most-paired in pre-Code. I will have to dig into that. (LOL on your future fake name!)

  2. There is no more urbane and droll as William Powell. His cache of weed was hilarious. I wanted to kick some entitlement out of the lovely Kay Francis in this role and Helen Vinson is perfect as her acidulated friend-in-boredom. In this ingenious romp, crime does pay and being bad has its’ not inconsiderable rewards.

  3. I enjoy classic horror, especially this time of year, but a steady diet can become a little tedious. Jewel Robbery sounds like a nice treat. Rather like a souffle after the stew.

  4. I mention a delicious minor role of Helen Vinson in the 1933 “Kennel Murder Case” wherein those poured on tea frocks of the 30’s lend her role that flash she demonstrates just sitting still. She’s that sliver of something you can’t even tweeze out of your skin.

    • Wow, Cecile – you certainly make me want to find a copy of Kennel Murder Case posthaste! I love this: “She’s that sliver of something you can’t even tweeze out of your skin.” To borrow from Virginia Grey in the Women — Holy mackerel, what a line!

  5. This is one of pre-Code’s best. I love it. It is to the credit of both Powell and Francis that they managed to make their respective characters immensely likable.

    In the hands of a lesser actress, Teri’s (Francis) sense of entitlement could easily have come off as extremely unsavory. The scene in the bath with Teri and her maids is for me a “let them eat cake” moment. Francis somehow manages to make Teri fun and daring, not annoying.

    • I totally agree, Margot. Francis is a delight from start to finish — I just love that scene in the bath. It’s brief, but a perfect introduction to the character, and Francis is masterful.

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