Sunday, October 12, 2008

Night is a Bedroom Lampshade

Jewel Robbery (1932)
directed by William Dieterle
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on TCM at Syl's

When I am asked, someday, to name the greats, I will begin with a horror film and end here. Ernst Lubitsch's women are like F. Scott Fitzgerald's: oddly unappreciated in spite of their author's fame. Trouble in Paradise was released the same year as Jewel Robbery, and Kay Francis stars in both. They are the only films of hers I've seen.

When all is said and done, I'll take Jewel Robbery. No doubt intended to capitalize on the success of the early Lubitsch musicals (although, come to think of it, without the singing), this gem from Portrait of Jennie director William Dieterle and writer Erwin S. Gelsey says something very true about the grace and humanity of happiness. The most impossible love - the love between opposites, lady and thief, bachelor and wife - is, here, a love to bring out the best in everyone. No conflict begins that does not retreat meekly, gently, even humorously before the hope that any sacrifice in service of the right romantic gesture is always worthwhile.

Jewel Robbery is much else besides: a stoner comedy (one of the first?), a class on screwball, and a ninety-minute reminder of why we care about film stars. It is less a fiction than a dream, and as such, the less possible of the two. Twice as nice as either, though. Anyone who says the Hays Code inspired studio screenwriters' best work hasn't watched enough movies.