Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag: ARSENE LUPIN and Joan Crawford ""

Monday, July 28, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag: ARSENE LUPIN and Joan Crawford

ARSENE LUPIN Double Feature
From Warner Archive's site:
"Crime pays handsomely in this smart and stylish double feature based on the adventures of Arsene Lupin, fiction’s most famous gentleman thief. john and Lionel Barrymore “make a marvelous team in their first film together” (Leonard Maltin ‘s Classic Movie Guide) in the risque Pre-Code mystery Arséne Lupin (1932), costarring Karen Morley. A wily police detective matches wits with France's greatest criminal as the notorious thief attempts to make good on his threat to steal the Mona Lisa."

One of the more charming characters in movies is the "gentleman thief". 
I was completely unaware of this film until less than a month ago. As part of my recent Underrated Detective/Mysteries series, one of my guest list-ers happened to pick this film as an underrated gem of the genre:
John and Lionel Barrymore are two of the great heavyweight stars of American cinema in all of like... ever. Both of them command the screen with their fierce personalities and some of the highest on-screen charisma wattage imaginable. Seeing them go toe to toe as sort of rivals in this film was nothing if not a pleasure to witness. It's almost too much for the frame to have both of them onscreen at the same time. They both have such star power that one is reminded of what it was that made a movie star a movie star back in the day. They just command you subconsciously to watch them. 
ARSEN LUPIN is based on a play from 1909 by Maurice Leblanc. Jack Conway's (LIBELED LADY, THE HUCKSTERS and VIVA VILLA!) direction and the presence of the brothers Barrymore elevates the material above your standard stage-to-screen adaptation. In a silly way, the plot made me think of the opening to the Hanna-Barbara cartoon HONG KONG PHOOEY. You know, the part where the narrator asks, "Who is this superhero?" and proceeds to go through all the major cast members on the show. I kept thinking whilst watching this film, "Who is Arsene Lupin??". In ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS, Melvyn Douglas takes over as the man himself and he's joined by WAC favorite Warren William as well as Virgina Bruce. Douglas has this tendency to surprise me in roles like this, as I often underrated him for some reason.
From WAC's site:
"Having faked his own death, Lupin (Douglas) Claims he’s retired and assumes the role of a gentleman farmer. But when a series of robberies suggests that the thief is still alive, an insurance detective (Warren William) attempts to track him down. convinced of Lupin‘s guilt."
This is a delightful set and both films are worthwhile. I'm very pleased to seem them out there and available for discovery.
This set can be purchased here:

THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (1937; Richard Boleslawski)
This movie is clearly an influence on the Cuba Gooding Jr. laugh riot BOAT TRIP and I'm stunned that nobody has acknowledged it. Clearly I'm joking, but nonetheless my mind did think of BOAT TRIP for some odd reason at least once whilst I was viewing this movie. The two films have no connection whatever except for their shipboard setting (which is only or the 1st 15 mins or so). And I hate to say it but Mr. Gooding Jr. ain't no Robert Montgomery. This 1937 comedy has a nice breezy feeling about it. It helps to have Montgomery and Nigel Bruce as two of the principles. While I'm most used to seeing Bruce alongside Basil Rathbone, this was a refreshing change and he and Montgomery were a lively duo. Add in the mugging of Frank Morgan (who's verbal double-takes are among the best ever) and you're getting somewhere. Pile on William Powell and you're really cooking.
This movie starts off like something from an 80s teen comedy. Montgomery, the philanderer, bets pal Nigel Bruce he can kiss Joan Crawford and when he fails, he takes a spirited interest in her. What he doesn't know is that Mr. Cheyney (Crawford) has a bit of a secret about her true intentions underlying the boat trip and later a charity event she's put on at her home. This movie eventually becomes one of those stories where one character has to reveal their true nature to an unsuspecting other and the other is forced to play the betrayal card or let it go. The best scene(s) are with Montgomery and Crawford and Montgomery and Powell (and later, Montgomery, Crawford and Powell). It's cool to see William Powell playing a butler only 1 year after MY MAN GODFREY even if it's only briefly.

I LIVE MY LIFE (1935; W.S. Van Dyke)
Watching this film back to back with MRS. CHEYNEY is a bit jarring at first as Joan Crawford is teamed with Frank Morgan again. What's funny though is that the first words out of her mouth in this movie are acknowledging Morgan as her father (whereas in CHEYNEY he was proposing to her). Anyway, I LIVE MY LIVE is an affable little comedy/drama about a wealthy socialite named Kay Bentley (Crawford), who while on holiday, meets up with and falls for an archaeologist (Brian Aherne). The two are smitten with each other and the archaelogist perhaps a bit more so as he follows Kay back to her social circles at home, which he doesn't exactly fit into all that well. It's a pleasant movie and I give credit to both Crawford (who is both lovely and rather adorable at this age) and director W.S. Van Dyke (THE THIN MAN, AFTER THE THIN MAN, TARZAN THE APE MAN). Oh and perhaps a script by a certain Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE, THE BAREFOOT CONTESS) might have helped as well.

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