Saturday, September 15, 2007

I AM A THIEF (1934)

Jewel thieves, romance, and murder on the Orient Express--sounds like fun, and some of it is, but for a short movie (one hour), too much of it drags. There has been a rash of jewel robberies in Paris and an insurance company, tired of making large payoffs, hatches a plan to catch the crooks by using an auction of the famous Karenina diamonds as bait. Suave Ricardo Cortez gets the diamonds, beating roughneck Texan Dudley Digges; when Cortez gets on the Orient Express (with nervous insurance man Hobart Cavanaugh), Digges joins him and eventually talks him into selling the diamonds, and they are stolen soon after. Who's behind it? There is a slew of mysterious characters on the train, including potential femme fatale Mary Astor, a perpetually arch-eyed baron (Robert Barratt), a count (Irving Pichel), and a befuddled looking old man (Ferdinand Gottschalk). Most of the enjoyment a viewer might get from this film depends on figuring out the good guys from the bad, with none of the main characters being who they seem at first to be, so I'll avoid spoilers, though if I figured out the puzzle halfway through, anyone can. Eventually, there is a murder, a gathering of suspects right out of an Agatha Christie movie, and an extra (though predictable) twist near the end. Astor looks good but seems a bit hemmed in by having to be quiet and mysterious for more than half the movie; Cortez is fine and the rest of the familiar supporting faces do their usual good, if unremarkable, work. Directed by Robert Florey, who remained a name in B-films through the 40's and later did a fair amount of TV work, including Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. [TCM]

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