Jewel Robbery (1932)

Pre-Code Jewel

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

I remember people criticizing The Wolf of Wall Street as immoral, then I’d love to see their reaction to this 83-year-old gem.

Kay Francis has one of my favourite character introductions ever, as an army of servants march to pamper her after getting up in the afternoon, lying in a bathtub, briefing showing off one leg shot up in the air then being pampered like a goddess ahead of her day of leisure. Jewel Robbery’s display of wealth would be explicit for any era, never mind the great depression. Francis’ reaction to being handed a box of jewels from Powell makes Lorelei Lee of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes look like less of a gold digger. Yes, these are shallow, superficial characters who never get punished for their actions, but that’s ok, only classic Hollywood actors could pull this off, making us enjoy rooting for characters like this. Although Francis’ character is at least self-aware of this, in one pivotal scene stating that she is shallow and weak as she leads a shallow and weak life and with a little courage she could run away from it.

William Powell is the coolest criminal ever; you would enjoy being held in a stick up by this guy. This being pre-code, a criminal is the hero of the story who deceives dim-witted guards. His methods of robbery, differentiating from what he calls “the stick ‘em up and shoot ‘em down school, no mess, no confusion” is so fascinating. Would his methods work in real life or is this just movie fantasy? He even gives his victims marijuana to calm them down. This movie waves the whole gauntlet of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Ok, there’s no rock ‘n’ roll but there’s sex and drugs. The jewel robbery itself is so snappy and fast-paced. It takes up a large portion of the film (which at one point made me wonder if the film would be a sort of high-class version of Dog Day Afternoon) and it’s over in a jiffy.

Jewel Robbery is one of the most erotic and sexist films I’ve ever seen. Many of the scenes and dialogues are provoking in some way from Kay Francis wearing dress looks like it’s about to fall of her and exposes her backside to William Powell wrapping his arms around Francis to grab a ring of her finger; this is what you call a titillating movie. I also love Kay Francis and her girlfriend’s excited reaction to discovering a man infiltrated their house. Plus has there ever existed an actual dwelling that has an interior similar to that of William Powell’s hideout? If I ever win the lottery I am going to hand a copy of this movie to an interior decorator. Also, the newspaper which appears near the beginning of the movie is called “Weiner Journal”.

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Broadway Bill (1934)

A Day at the Races

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Broadway Bill is Frank Capra’s forgotten follow up to It Happened One Night, likely due to the film being out of circulation until the 1990’s and what a shame too. Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy are not romantic leads as she is his sister in law but both of them have great admiration for each other with Dan Brooks (Baxter) referring to her affectionately as The Princess and Loy clearly in love with the man and holding the same ideals as him but unable to go any further due to family ties; I find this dynamic is more interesting than a standard romance. Capra originally wanted Clark Gable in the lead role but had to settle with Warner Baxter who at least seems to be the next best thing as he holds much of the same rugged, footloose appeal of Gable.

Broadway Bill features many of the same Capra-isms as seen in his other films. The small town of Higginsvillie being run by business mogul J.L Higggins played by Walter Connolly is a much more light-hearted version of Mr Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. He is in control of his entire family who run his individual enterprises and even their own national bank as visualised in a gag in which the entire Higgin’s family proceed to eat dinner in perfect unison. They’re not the Rothschilds but they’re wealthy and powerful (“Higgins, that’s not a family, that’s a disease”). Yet at the end of the film J.L. gets rid of his businesses or as he puts it, gives back institutions to the people who founded them. Like the Sycamore family in You Can’t Take It With You, Dan Brooks want to leave behind his life of work in favour of leisure and enjoyment, ideals comparable to the counter-cultures of the 1960’s. After all what could be duller than running a paper box company? Unless you’re Seymour Skinner.

One of the most pivotal scenes in Broadway Bill involves one of the richest men in the world, J.P. Chase putting a $2 bet on Broadway Bill at 100/1 as a means to pass time will in hospital. When word gets out it spreads like wild-fire and the claims of what the amount of money he placed on the best become exaggerated from $2 to $20,000 to $50,000 all the way up to a quarter million. Simple message – don’t believe everything you hear.

I love Broadway Bill for its simple cheerful Innocence. This is one of several films which has managed to tug my heartstrings over the fate of a horse. One plot element even involves the horse Broadway Bill refusing to race because he doesn’t have his pet chicken called Skeeter. You wouldn’t find this kind of innocence today in a film which is supposedly made for adults.