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LawrenceA

Recently Watched Pre-Codes

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The Song of Songs (1933) - Romantic drama from Paramount Pictures and director Rouben Mamoulian. Marlene Dietrich stars as young German peasant girl Lily. After her father dies, leaving her an orphan, she travels from her old home in the country to the big city of Berlin where she works for her harridan of an aunt (Alison Skipworth). It's not long before she draws the attention of handsome sculptor Richard (Brian Aherne) who convinces her to nude model for him. She also attracts the attention of creepy older Baron von Merxbach (Lionel Atwill) who wants her for his own. Also featuring Hardie Albright, Helen Freeman, and Wilson Benge.

From the "scandalous" nude modeling scenes to the resulting statue, from the seamy dialogue to the ultimate fate of Lily, this classy film features more than its share of pre-code attributes. Director Mamoulian brings his usual attention to set design, lighting and camera placement. Dietrich is very good here, transitioning believably from the naive waif of the film's start to the jaded, world-wise woman of the finale.   (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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State's Attorney (1932) - Legal drama from RKO and director George Archainbaud. John Barrymore stars as high-powered attorney Tom Cardigan. When he grows weary of defending hoods like his chief client Valentine Powers (William "Stage" Boyd), he accepts an offer to become a state prosecutor. Also featuring Helen Twelvetrees, Jill Esmond, Mary Duncan, C. Henry Gordon, Ralph Ince, Oscar Apfel, Paul Hurst, Leon Ames, Blanche Friderici, Barton MacLane, and Nat Pendleton.

Barrymore's drinking problems off-screen seem to be bleeding on-screen, as his character spends at least half the film somewhat soused. He's still very good, though, and very sharp in the climactic courtroom scenes. Esmond, best known today for being Laurence Olivier's first wife, doesn't impress much as a flighty lover. Twelvetrees comes across much better as a former streetwalker getting her life straight thanks to Barrymore. I'm not usually too fond of Boyd, but he's better here, or at least his inherent unlikability comes in handy playing a heel.   (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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I still haven't seen STATE'S ATTORNEY. I'm a Helen Twelvetrees fan. She has the saddest eyes of any actress. She really plumbs the depth of her soul with her performances. 

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2 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

I still haven't seen STATE'S ATTORNEY. I'm a Helen Twelvetrees fan. She has the saddest eyes of any actress. She really plumbs the depth of her soul with her performances. 

I've only seen her in a few films, but she really stood out in State's Attorney. She's always been a source of amusement in my family as my long-deceased grandfather used to declare his love for her, and how he would go to see any movie she was in. 

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12 minutes ago, LawrenceA said:

I've only seen her in a few films, but she really stood out in State's Attorney. She's always been a source of amusement in my family as my long-deceased grandfather used to declare his love for her, and how he would go to see any movie she was in. 

She's very good in MILLIE (1931) an RKO tearjerker. If you haven't seen it, I would highly recommend it. And since MILLIE is in the public domain it's fairly easy to find. Joan Blondell plays a supporting role but it's a Helen Twelvetrees picture and she gets all the big dramatic moments.

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White Woman (1933) - Lurid, sometimes grisly melodrama from Paramount Pictures and director Stuart Walker. Carole Lombard stars as Judith Denning, a nightclub singer with a sordid past stuck in a Third World country where the white governors don't want her around. She reluctantly agrees to marry Horace Prin (Charles Laughton), a rich but repellent owner of a Malaysian rubber plantation. Known as the "King of the River" , Prin runs things with an iron fist and a maniacal twinkle in his eye. It doesn't take long for Judith to regret her decision, what with the horrid weather and seething natives. She's also being chased by a pair of her husband's employees: handsome Army deserter David (Kent Taylor) and swaggering new overseer Ballister (Charles Bickford). Also featuring Percy Kilbride, James Bell, Charles Middleton, Noble Johnson, Claude King, and Marc Lawrence.

This plays like a mash-up of A Lady to Love and Island of Lost Souls. The filmmakers re-used the sets from the latter film, and Laughton gets to ham it up in a delightful way, with an exaggerated accent, peculiar manners, and silly haircut and mustache. Lombard looks terrific, but she doesn't have much to do other than excite the guys in the cast while looking sad. Bickford doesn't show up until later in the movie, but he's worth it with his macho, no BS characterization clashing wonderfully with Laughton's sadistic weirdo. Like most exotic locale movies of the era, this one is more than a little racist, and the bungled depiction of the natives adds to the movie's bizarre "charm".  (7/10)

Source: YouTube.

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Wild Boys of the Road (1933) - Excellent drama about the effects of the Depression on the country's youth, from First National and director William Wellman. Frankie Darro and Edwin Phillips star as Eddie and Tommy, two small town buddies who decide to drop out of high school and hit the road to look for work in bigger towns when the economic downturn of the Great Depression leaves both of their families destitute and unable to support them. While traveling the rails as hobos they meet Sally (Dorothy Coonan), another teen on the road since her family's fortunes have faded. These three stick together through thick and thin, overcoming all manner of hardships and meeting several characters on their way to a hoped-for better future. Also featuring Rochelle Hudson, Sterling Holloway, Robert Barrat, Arthur Hohl, Ann Hovey, Minna Gombell, Grant Mitchell, Charley Grapewin, and Ward Bond.

I was genuinely moved by the character's plight, and the story took a few turns I didn't expect. The emotional moments seem real and not manipulative, and while much of the lingo seems corny now, the sentiment is universal. The performances are good, and I was especially impressed with Coonan, a dancer and chorus girl who married director Wellman (almost 20 years her senior) the following year, a union that lasted the remainder of his life. This was one of the better movies I've watched in a while, and will rank among my top ten of its year. Recommended.  (8/10)

Source: TCM.

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It's interesting you covered WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD. I found a disc of old TCM recordings last night that had this film as well as NO GREATER GLORY (1934), which I believe the channel aired back to back in a tribute to Frankie Darro. NO GREATER GLORY is directed by Frank Borzage and features another group of ragtag kids. I'd suggest you look at that one too, if you haven't already done so. 

Coonan and Wellman had seven children and I was under the impression she only made this one film. But on her wiki page it says she had an uncredited role in THE STORY OF G.I. JOE, which her husband also directed.

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I really like WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD.  Frankie Darro was a great juvenile actor and I've seen him in a number of movies from that era.  There are some really harrowing scenes in the movie, too.  It seems very real that parents in the depths of the depression would have a really tough time taking care of their kids so it's easy to understand the eldest kids heading out on their own.

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Beggars in Ermine (1934) - Offbeat drama from Monogram and director Phil Rosen. Lionel Atwill stars as John Dawson, the charismatic head of a prosperous steel company. He's well-liked by his workers, but his board of directors are always looking for a quicker profit, and one member of the board has his sights set on Dawson's seat. After an "accident" at the steel mill destroys Dawson's legs, he is swindled out of his company and his fortune. He's soon after believed killed in a train accident, but in fact he sets out, with new blind friend Marchant (Henry B. Walthall), to organize the city's crippled and lame men and women into a corporation of beggars whose meager daily take is invested by Dawson, making them all millionaires, and allowing Dawson to have his revenge. Also featuring Betty Furness, Jameson Thomas, James Bush, Astrid Allwyn, and George "Gabby" Hayes.

This plays like many of the Depression-era fantasies that envision sweeping change at the hands of righteous people against the corrupt and greedy who are destroying the nation and its institutions. The plot is honestly one that I haven't quite seen before, which alone is a rarity, and the odd cast pull off the roles. The settings are basic, as this is a Monogram picture, but that doesn't really hinder the storytelling.   (6/10)

This is another example of a movie which doesn't fit into any of the existing genre threads. I settled on Pre-Code since it was released early in '34, and the Code wasn't strictly enforced until later that year, but there's nothing here that would have been objectionable under the Code. 

Source: YouTube.

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I watched SAFE IN HELL again which I have commented on in some of the General Discussion threads.  It's expertly directed by "Wild Bill" Wellman and pulls no punches.  Dorothy Mackaill is terrific in it.  I like that Nina Mae McKinney and Clarence Muse are in it, too, and they are not playing "shuckin' and jivin'" stereotypical supporting roles.  Dorothy plays Gilda, a woman who escapes to a Caribbean island evading possible murder charges in the States.  She's surrounded by a bunch of seedy male predators, one of whom is particularly evil. 

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On 11/18/2017 at 8:26 PM, TopBilled said:

She's very good in MILLIE (1931) an RKO tearjerker. If you haven't seen it, I would highly recommend it. And since MILLIE is in the public domain it's fairly easy to find. Joan Blondell plays a supporting role but it's a Helen Twelvetrees picture and she gets all the big dramatic moments.

Joan Blondell usually had real temptress qualities who enjoyed being naughty, like in Dames when she kept sneaking into Guy Kibee's bed trying to blackmail him for money, I love the way Blondell says in her second blackmailing scene in Guy's bedroom "look, we've been over this before and we all know how this goes, so are you gonna hand over the money or do I need to call cousin Ezra?" And Blondell also tries to seduce Dick Powell away from Ruby Keeler while singing "Gotta do it my way".

My favorite pre-code film, of course, is Barbara Stanwick's Babyface. No other pre-code film spelled out so much outright seducing and making scenes of a woman trying to sleep her way to the top so obvious. I know that that's not such a big deal today, but this was the 1930s and about half of the American population back then still found that kind of material shocking. You think today, somewhere like the Catholic legion of decency would ever have a prayer in succeeding in enforcing such a code in Hollywood?

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On 11/22/2017 at 2:07 PM, ChristineHoard said:

I really like WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD.  Frankie Darro was a great juvenile actor and I've seen him in a number of movies from that era.  There are some really harrowing scenes in the movie, too.  It seems very real that parents in the depths of the depression would have a really tough time taking care of their kids so it's easy to understand the eldest kids heading out on their own.

Even though it came out after the code went into effect, I loved James Cagney in Angels with dirty faces. There was absolutely nothing innocent about that film. Cagney's scenes in prison were quite intense, including the scene in the lunchroom when learning his mother died, and then his execution scene.

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8 hours ago, Allenex said:

Joan Blondell usually had real temptress qualities who enjoyed being naughty, like in Dames when she kept sneaking into Guy Kibee's bed trying to blackmail him for money, I love the way Blondell says in her second blackmailing scene in Guy's bedroom "look, we've been over this before and we all know how this goes, so are you gonna hand over the money or do I need to call cousin Ezra?" And Blondell also tries to seduce Dick Powell away from Ruby Keeler while singing "Gotta do it my way".

My favorite pre-code film, of course, is Barbara Stanwick's Babyface. No other pre-code film spelled out so much outright seducing and making scenes of a woman trying to sleep her way to the top so obvious. I know that that's not such a big deal today, but this was the 1930s and about half of the American population back then still found that kind of material shocking. You think today, somewhere like the Catholic legion of decency would ever have a prayer in succeeding in enforcing such a code in Hollywood?

I don't think the material in precodes was shocking to everyone. After all, these were people who had come through the jazz age. They were not living under a rock. But there was an outspoken group that wanted films to reflect a more virtuous side of society. I think post-code audiences tend to look at the films as shocking, because they're used to the stories made during the code years...it's hard to believe other aspects of society had ever been depicted on screen in the 1920s and early 1930s. 

BABYFACE is a fun film, but it's almost too obvious, too transparent in the handling of its material. It might have been better if it was a bit more subtle and complex. 

The Catholic church still rates movies so Catholic families can determine if the content of a film is suitable for children. In that regard the Catholic Legion of Decency did not go away, it just evolved.

http://www.catholicnews.com/movies.cfm

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8 hours ago, Allenex said:

Even though it came out after the code went into effect, I loved James Cagney in Angels with dirty faces. There was absolutely nothing innocent about that film. Cagney's scenes in prison were quite intense, including the scene in the lunchroom when learning his mother died, and then his execution scene.

There is a lunchroom scene in Angels with Dirty Faces like the one in White Heat?

 

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5 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I don't think the material in precodes was shocking to everyone. After all, these were people who had come through the jazz age.

My guess is that most Americans were shock by the material in precodes, but to what degree, I have no idea.    Of course what one says they are shocked about and what is actually going on in their mind can be two different things.   So I tend to agree with you here TP:  Most were NOT as shocked back in the early 30s as we would like to believe. 

E.g. with my 85 year old mom,   when sexual items involving politics are in the news she SAYS she doesn't understand.   Why would this politician put his career at risk???   She ACTS like she doesn't get how SEX (the need for, the hold it can have,  the desires that can lead to harm),  can be the motivator.   She always insist it must be something else.      But 40 years ago which searching for some pot my mom had taken from me,  I discovered she had Japaneses porn.      The point being that one may act shocked because that is the PC way to react.

 

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3 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

My guess is that most Americans were shock by the material in precodes, but to what degree, I have no idea.    Of course what one says they are shocked about and what is actually going on in their mind can be two different things.   So I tend to agree with you here TP:  Most were NOT as shocked back in the early 30s as we would like to believe. 

E.g. with my 85 year old mom,   when sexual items involving politics are in the news she SAYS she doesn't understand.   Why would this politician put his career at risk???   She ACTS like she doesn't get how SEX (the need for, the hold it can have,  the desires that can lead to harm),  can be the motivator.   She always insist it must be something else.      But 40 years ago which searching for some pot my mom had taken from me,  I discovered she had Japaneses porn.      The point being that one may act shocked because that is the PC way to react.

Good post, and cute story about your mom. I always chuckle when people act shocked or confused about sex, yet obviously they must know something about sex in order to have kids.

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7 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I don't think the material in precodes was shocking to everyone. After all, these were people who had come through the jazz age. They were not living under a rock. But there was an outspoken group that wanted films to reflect a more virtuous side of society. I think post-code audiences tend to look at the films as shocking, because they're used to the stories made during the code years...it's hard to believe other aspects of society had ever been depicted on screen in the 1920s and early 1930s. 

BABYFACE is a fun film, but it's almost too obvious, too transparent in the handling of its material. It might have been better if it was a bit more subtle and complex. 

The Catholic church still rates movies so Catholic families can determine if the content of a film is suitable for children. In that regard the Catholic Legion of Decency did not go away, it just evolved.

http://www.catholicnews.com/movies.cfm

Not everyone during pre code years were shocked by pre code films, I was saying probably somewhere around half of Americans were shocked by pre code films. But, if you compare pre code film material to what you find in more modern R rated movies, adult programs and shows on TV and what you find on the internet today, there is still much more and much higher levels of explicit material all over the place now in the 21st century. The growing increase of it over the decades has helped to influence society as a whole over the decades to be much less virtuous today than back in the 1930s. The bar has still been lowered since back then. How explicit really is Babyface compared to so many things today? The Catholic Church still may rate movies today, but they would never be able to successfully convince Hollywood to make almost all films they produce baracaded from explicit material because the general public's reactions to that today would be way harsher than they were back then. Also, back in the 1930s, many parts of America were still much more virtuous than big northern cities like in New York. New York had thousands of speakeasies, many other places had much fewer. And even with bootlegging and speakeasies, America is still much less innocent with what goes on today.

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26 minutes ago, Allenex said:

Not everyone during pre code years were shocked by pre code films, I was saying probably somewhere around half of Americans were shocked by pre code films. But, if you compare pre code film material to what you find in more modern R rated movies, adult programs and shows on TV and what you find on the internet today, there is still much more and much higher levels of explicit material all over the place now in the 21st century. The growing increase of it over the decades has helped to influence society as a whole over the decades to be much less virtuous today than back in the 1930s. The bar has still been lowered since back then. How explicit really is Babyface compared to so many things today? The Catholic Church still may rate movies today, but they would never be able to successfully convince Hollywood to make almost all films they produce barricaded from explicit material because the general public's reactions to that today would be way harsher than they were back then. Also, back in the 1930s, many parts of America were still much more virtuous than big northern cities like in New York. New York had thousands of speakeasies, many other places had much fewer. And even with bootlegging and speakeasies, America is still much less innocent with what goes on today.

BIB: We shouldn't put this all on the Catholic church. Jewish rabbis and Protestant ministers also influenced the production code office from 1934 to 1968.

I don't agree that life in the 1930s was necessarily more innocent than it is now. Of course, I don't have the statistics in front of me. But we know there were still killers, sexual predators and swindlers committing crime in American communities during those years, both in urban and rural settings.

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On 1/28/2018 at 2:51 PM, TopBilled said:

BIB: We shouldn't put this all on the Catholic church. Jewish rabbis and Protestant ministers also influenced the production code office from 1934 to 1968.

I don't agree that life in the 1930s was necessarily more innocent than it is now. Of course, I don't have the statistics in front of me. But we know there were still killers, sexual predators and swindlers committing crime in American communities during those years, both in urban and rural settings.

What I had meant when mentioning the higher levels of innocence in the 1930s compared to today was not me saying that there was less crime, I know that crime was bad in the early 1930s. I was referring more to differences in sexually related issues and vulgarity. People may have cursed back then, but the f word was rare.  I've read that on websites, and my grandparents and other elderly people I'd spoken with in the past have also told me the same. And, I've never once seen one pre code film, the less decent films of the time, with the f word, or s word either. There were curse words then, but it wasn't them. People said the a word, hell, g**damnit, and numerous curse words that no one uses anymore.

Promiscous sex was not on the same level back in the 1930s either. There are many more open exposures to sex and nudity today, from internet porn to nudity and sex in modern movies (pre code films never actually showed full nudity or anyone engaging in intercourse on-screen) to people in real life. People in real life are way more promiscuous today than back then, and a higher percentage of the general population today is more OK with it than back then. I'm aware of the flapper girls in the speakeasies of the 1920s and 1930s bringing in a new age of more freedom amongst women, including drinking and smoking, went to petting parties, and they weren't all reserving sex for marriage the way that most women before then did. But, it still wasn't even close to the level of women's promiscuity today. There were real life versions of Barbara Stanwyk's Babyface back then, I'm sure, but there are alot more of them today, and women that'll go much further than that now. Also, flappers were mainly in the northern US cities. Today, promiscuous women are everywhere. Even in the northern cities and in New York, flappers didn't make as high of a percentage of women then as promiscous women today do. Saying that back then was just like today is simply untrue. This is, of course, along with so many other differences back then from music, style of talk and conversation, and general world views. Also the differences in clothes, flappers wore knee-length dresses instead of floor length, but many women back then young and old still wore floor length dresses much more than women today do. In all of the above in this paragraph and the one above it, back then was better.

As you were saying about the crime and how there were murderers and rapists back then, that I agree with you on. There was alot of gangster and mafia crime surrounding bootlegging and the sometimes mafia controlled speakeasies. They inspired as well famous gangsters Al Capone and Babyface Nelson. They also inspired the numerous 1930s gangster flicks including James Cagney's films, which I like.  

The Depression also brought in alot of crime and desperation from the poverty levels from the almost 25% unemployment rate in the early 1930s. Crime started dropping and things started becoming less grim once Franklin Roosevelt brought in the New Deal. Crime dropped even more by WW2 since war often brings people in the community together. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, crime in America was at an all-time low and prosperity at an all-time high. America was much safer then than it was in the 1930s or today.

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On 1/28/2018 at 12:50 PM, jamesjazzguitar said:

There is a lunchroom scene in Angels with Dirty Faces like the one in White Heat?

 

My mistake, I worded it wrong. I meant the execution scene in Angels with dirty faces and the lunchroom scene in White heat where Cagney is told his mother died, then completely freaks out, starts trying to knock out the guards, and is then carried out of there screaming.

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A Free Soul (1931) is a showcase for Norma Shearer, who plays Jan Ashe, the daughter of alcoholic defense attorney Stephen Ashe (John Barrymore).  Stephen ends his losing streak by winning the acquittal of gangster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable, exuding the masculine super confidence that would launch him to stardom). For Jan, its love at first sight upon meeting Ace.  Supposedly refined women falling for crude alpha males is nothing new. And there’s always a sensitive soul who gets kicked to the curb. Here the discarded lover is Leslie Howard, playing renowned polo player Dwight Winthrop, who takes the rejection with philosophical resignation, a trait that made Leslie Howard’s doomed characters so memorable.

A Free Soul is hurt by sluggish pacing. Gable’s performance is uneven.  He’s more effective as the suave bad boy who courts Shearer than the thug who turns on her.  Barrymore is poignant as the washed-up lawyer with nothing left except the love of his daughter. Shearer dominates the picture by her dynamic screen presence.

The predictable third act finds Barrymore back in court, working his magic for the last time, defending Howard against murder. My favorite part was Gable’s Ace Wilfong threatening Shearer’s character with the ultimate Pre-Code punishment, not physical violence, but spreading the news she’s been sleeping with him, shaming her and thereby ending any chance of a respectable marriage.

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The Front Page (1931) sizzles with Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s script, the barbs and sexual innuendo flying back and forth.  Pat O’Brien plays ace Chicago reporter Hildy Johnson, looking forward to marriage and a less hectic life in New York.  Adolphe Menjou, as Johnson’s cagey editor Walter Burns, will use any trick in the book to keep him from leaving, knowing that Johnson is a reporter through and through.  The narrative hook is the escape of death row inmate Earl Williams (George E. Stone).  Is Williams guilty, or is he being framed by politicians looking to get reelected on a law and order platform?  Ably directed by Lewis Milestone, The Front Page uses quick cuts to maintain a breathless pace.

Mary Brian plays Johnson’s patient fiancé, and Mae Clarke shines as Williams’s gaudy but good-hearted girlfriend. Great supporting work comes from of an assortment of character actors, including Frank McHugh as a sleazy tabloid bottom feeder, and Edward Everett Horton as a persnickety germophobe. The Front Page was remade, brilliantly, in 1940 as His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.  But this Pre-Code adaptation of the famous 1928 Broadway play more than stands on its own.

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Jewel Robbery (1932) is a witty, and oh so naughty Pre-code from Warner Bros.  Kay Francis displays a deft comedic touch as the wife of a wealthy but dull government official. The film is set in Vienna. Along with her friend Marianne (a great Helen Vinson), they like gossiping about husbands and lovers which, of course, are not the same thing.  

Kay loves diamonds and expensive clothes, and while visiting a prestigious jeweler to pick up a gift from her husband, she has a wonderful experience: she's robbed.  Not by a thuggish amateur, but by William Powell's suave professional, who carries a revolver, but his preferred method of subduing the police is by giving them "funny" cigarettes. They'll give you a marvelous appetite, he tells one clueless but deliriously happy victim. Kay falls immediately in love with Powell's character, going so far as to deceive the police so he won't get caught.  It's so much fun watching Kay put on a facade of resistance when alone with Powell, after all, she's a married and respectable woman!

Jewel Robbery is a breezy little gem, and it shows why Kay Francis was one of Warner Bros. biggest stars during the Pre-Code years. 

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