Wednesday, April 02, 2008


At an art exhibit, a countess (Vera Zorina) shows off a stunning necklace which she says is a worthless copy of a valuable original. However, Fritz Feld, told by an expert that it's worth hundreds of thousands of francs, offers to buy it from her for a large sum, despite her continuing protestations that it's worth nothing. After the sale, Feld tries to sell it and finds that it is, indeed, worthless. It turns out that Zorina is a former ballerina turned con woman who has been working this particular con, using an actual valuable necklace and its copy, with her pals Erich von Stroheim and Peter Lorre. They go across France making a nice living bilking folks until Zorina falls in love with their latest mark, Richard Greene. She doesn't tell Greene about her past, they get married, and she tries to leave the racket, but Stroheim and Lorre keep trying to drag her back in. She pulls a nicely twisty con to get rid of them, which works briefly, but soon they're back to get revenge by robbing all the weekend guests at Greene's estate. Zorina comes clean with her husband, but how will they catch the burglars, who are on their way out of the country?

This is a little confection which feels like it wants to be a fluffy, harmless version of the Lubitsch pre-Code classic TROUBLE IN PARADISE with a hint of Dietrich's DESIRE tossed in. It starts out well enough, and the two con games we see in full (the first one, and the one that Zorina pulls on Stroheim and Lorre) are fun, but other parts of the film lag a bit. The biggest problems are a sloppy script and lackluster romantic leads. Stroheim and Lorre wind up stealing the show. Lorre's character is actually the most interesting in the film; he's a con man who seems to genuinely want to leave the business (and has a real affection for Zorina) but knows he's good at it and can't quite get away. Stroheim is not exactly known for comedy, but he displays a nice light touch here, all the more effective because he goes against type. Though there seems to be no particular degree of eroticism in the men's relationship, they are compared explicitly to a married couple (they're said to be together "for richer or poorer"). Worth seeing as a novelty. [FMC]

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