It’s the old story. A pompous old coot is bragging proudly about his new unstoppable, indestructible system of invisible lights he has put in place to stop even the most skilled burglars. No sooner have the words left his mouth and we already know he’s doomed. Sure enough, not a moment goes by before a clerk rushes in to inform them that the impossible has happened. Someone has absconded with all the jewels. The man proceeds to fall backward in shock.
Next, we meet the “Wavishing Kay Fwancis” as she leaves the suds of her bathtub behind upon hearing the news that there’s been another brazen jewel heist pulled on one of the most foremost jewelers in Vienna. She breathes a sigh of relief when she hears which one. You see she has aspirations for a beautiful diamond from Hollanders. But for now, her pride and joy is still safe.
You can instantly gather what kind of person she is as maids and manicurists dote over her every need. Dressing her and primping her and giving her a makeover as she gossips with her best friend. But despite the decadence showered upon her, she craves something else. Namely, a strapping man who is exciting and who will carry her off to some romantic rendezvous.
Francis navigates these hoops so assuredly in such a way that we believe her in the role. There’s no denying her to be a very elegant lady. But the perfect counterpoint is her naive quality. Maybe it’s even partially based on her slight predilection to pronounce her Rs as Ws (Hence her affectionate nickname). And she acknowledges that even in her own eyes she is both shallow and weak despite holding qualities that might make her a generally decent human being. There’s still time.
When she goes to purchase her coveted diamond like a giddy child in a candy store, she’s in for a very rude awakening. If it wasn’t the 1930s it would feel like a western stick up masterminded by a gentleman criminal who is played by none other than, you guessed it, William Horatio Powell. But he’s a cut above your typical heavy. That’s obvious enough to see. He’s a robber who enjoys a good waltz playing on the phonograph while he’s looting the joint and some trivial chit-chat to make the atmosphere more relaxed.
You get the sense that Powell is relishing every line of dialogue and he’s so congenial with every word of it. It works wonders as he runs verbal rings about his cohorts completely commanding the stage from thence onward. Not to mention passing around his dandy case of cigarettes with something extra special.
In fact, being brutally frank, William Dieterle’s film stalls when it lacks Powell and Francis together. While not dismal, the supporting cast doesn’t provide the same electricity or charm as our leading item. Perhaps that’s a good thing because we like them onscreen together. We want them to be onscreen. And we get our wish when he calls upon her at home. It’s all very daring and forward but he wants to use her safe to hide his loot. However, there was also something about the lady too that made him come see her again. Call it fate if you will.
Alas, the police are after him and he must flee. She plays the victim and plays the part well. But secretly she knows her true feelings. We do too and we know that Powell will slip away because in a picture with a tone such as this anything else is inconceivable.
The final stroke of inspiration is in the closing shot where we see something that stands in the face of classical Hollywood convention. Kay Francis looks straight into the camera and puts a finger to her lips boldly breaking that invisible fourth wall. All that has transpired thus far will be our little secret. There the picture ends. With a rendezvous in Nice in the works. If a single image can elevate a picture and leave a lasting impression, Jewel Robbery is a fitting example.