Tuesday, June 05, 2012


This historical melodramatic comedy of manners (based on the life of a real person, or at least the book he wrote about himself) should have been more fun than it is; everyone seems to be working at half-energy. George Sanders is Eugene Francois Vidocq, born in a prison in 1775, raised in the gutter, and when we pick up his story—told by himself in flashback—having just escaped prison with his pal Emil (Akim Tamiroff). On the way to Paris, the shabby twosome stop in a village where they are recruited by an artist to pose for a painting of St. George (the presentable looking Vidocq, pictured) on a horse fighting the Dragon (the scruffy Emil). When the painting is finished, they steal the horse and more disreputable adventures begin. Vidocq takes his name from a gravestone while he's being charming to a rich lady (Alma Kruger) so he can get his hands on her jewels, though he's also being charming to Kruger’s sweet, wholesome daughter and to a cabaret singer (who happens to be "dating" the chief of police ). He steals the jewels while the police chief (Gene Lockhart) is an overnight guest at the house, then to show him up, pretends to do some sleuthing to find the jewels before the police can. Lockhart is demoted and Sanders winds up being given the position of Chief. He installs Emil and a bunch of cronies as employees in the Bank of Paris, intending to pull off a huge robbery, but soon love (not to mention his earlier stint at St. George which comes back to haunt him) has him contemplating turning over a new leaf.

This being made under the Production Code, Sanders can have lots on larceny in his heart, but can't get away with too much of it if he's to wind up the hero. Most of the film has a light satirical tone, though the plot takes some dark turns near the end with the murder and suicide of two major characters. Sanders is fine in the last half, but I think the part could have been carried off better by someone with more verve, an Errol Flynn type, perhaps. Carole Landis is the singer and Alan Napier is Kruger's husband. This was directed by Douglas Sirk, before his turn toward glossy Technicolor melodrama in the 50's (MAGNIFCENT OBSESSION, WRITTEN ON THE WIND). The whole thing seems a little too calculated and distant to be fun. I did enjoy Sanders' droll observation about adultery: "Sometimes the chains of matrimony are so heavy, they must be carried by three." [DVD]

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