Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE SOLITAIRE MAN (1933)

Dowager May Robson and her niece (Elizabeth Allan) are staying in a hotel on the Riviera; Robson is newly widowed—and newly poor—and she needs money for her room, so she agrees to sell the famous Nell Gwyn necklace to an American named Peabody. At least, that's the story she tells Peabody; in reality, she and Allan and thieves, working with the gentlemanly jewel thief Herbert Marshall and his sidekick Ralph Forbes. Marshall, known in the press as the Solitaire Man, has bought a house in Devonshire and is ready to make this his last caper and settle down with Allan—he's even booked a flight back to England—but Forbes, who became a drug addict during the war, steals the Brewster jewels from the British embassy. Because they are too hot to sell, Marshall sneaks them back into the Embassy, but another thief, hidden in the dark, is there to try and take them, killing a policeman to boot. Marshall keeps the jewels and the gang gets away on the plane. The only other passengers are mouthy American Mary Boland and quiet but suspicious Lionel Atwill. The last half of the movie, set entirely on the plane, consists of what appear to be crosses and double-crosses and various shenanigans (including one lights-out moment and one passenger jumping from the plane) and since they're fun, I won’t spoil them. Suffice to say that because this is a pre-Code film, the ending may not quite go the way you expect.

The studio, MGM, probably tried to sell this as another TROUBLE IN PARADISE, a sophisticated jewel-thief comedy from 1932 with Herbert Marshall. This is not nearly as witty or fun as that film, but it does have its own more minor-league charms. It's based on a play and is fairly stagy, especially in the long sequence in the plane, but it is fun to watch it all play out. Some of the twists are predictable, some less so. The plane scene is made fun by the trio of Marshall, Atwill, and especially Boland; her character was so irritating at first that I nearly stopped watching, but she quickly became great fun. (That's Boland between Marshall and Atwill pictured above.) Forbes is OK and Allan is unmemorable, but they don't spoil things. [TCM]

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