The great William Powell stars in this delightful — and again very, very Pre-Code — crime comedy, Jewel Robbery (1932), from the underrated William Dieterle, who here gives Ernst Lubitsch a run for his money in terms of stylish sophistication. Powell plays a gentleman thief (we never learn his name) — and very gentlemanly he is, as you’ll see when he reveals his method for keeping his victims from calling for help or pursuing him. (I won’t spoil it, but it would be unthinkable a couple years later — at least in a movie. The years of 1932 and 1933 were increasingly on the permissive side.)
His approach to robbery is very civilized — “I do very little shooting these days. As a matter of fact, I’m opposed to the American school of banditries. I studied in Paris. You have to work harder, but you do acquire a certain finesse that’s missing from the stick-‘em-up-and-shoot-them-down school.” And since he only chooses the finest shops, he works on the basis that “in robbing a place of this sort, one must have a drawing room technique.” He “meets cute” with Kay Francis during such a robbery. Well, of course, since he’s fascinating and both her aging Baron husband (Henry Kolker) and her cabinet minister boyfriend (these folks are very sophisticated) are not, she immediately falls for Powell. And even if she hadn’t, she’s thrilled at the realization that being able to tell of her experiences will make her the envy of all society. It’s all witty and fun and not the least bit moral on any level, but Dieterle and his cast make it all seem OK.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Jewel Robbery Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.