Forgotten Film: Arsene Lupin (1932) 

Two Barrymores star in this 1930s film about the gentleman thief.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 178th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It was a tough choice this week selecting a Forgotten Film. On one hand, I had more of TCM’s giant creature movies on the DVR and I watched The Deadly Mantis in preparation for the review. But doing two similar films in a row was not how I really wanted to go. So, I glanced through the DVR and ran across Arsene Lupin, a mystery/thriller from 1932. I love older mysteries and the character of Arsene Lupin, so this film won out.

The character of Arsene Lupin, gentleman thief, was first introduced by Maurice Le Blanc in a series of short stories in 1905. By the time this film was made, Lupin had appeared in at least ten films and several plays as well as a number of short stories and novels. Wikipedia shows 19 volumes before the release of this film.

Aside from the subject matter, the film is also notable for being a team-up of John and Lionel Barrymore, two massive stars of the silver screen.  John gets the role of Arsene Lupin and the Duke of Charmerace, a broke aristocrat who runs a robbery ring as the gentleman burglar Arsene Lupin. The film opens with a trussed up servant of Gourney-Martin knocking a telephone off the table and calling the police. He says the house is being robbed by someone approximately six feet tall with a limp. The call goes to the dispatch, where it is identified as possibly being by Arsene Lupin. The call is given to Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) who is one of the best in the Paris police.

As the police approach the house, the thief flees, but Guerchard follows. When they find the fleeing vehicle, it is abandoned except for a bound, well-dressed figure. The captive identifies himself as the Duke of Charmerace (John Barrymore). Guerchard says that’s a lie. The banter between the mysterious man and the officer continues back and forth continues until Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall) arrives from the opera and identifies Charmerace to the police. Guerchard believes that Charmerac is still Lupin and was after Gourney-Martin’s famous emerald necklace and other jewels.  Gourney-Martin explains to Guerchard that Lupin would have been disappointed because the jewels are in the Gourney-Martin villa in the countryside. Charmerace hears this at the same time.

Gourney-Martin plans to head out to the countryside to make sure the jewels are OK. Charmerace has a party to host the next evening for his birthday. Guerchard is planning on having men at the party to keep an eye on him. At the party, Charmerace finds a naked woman in his bed. Her name is Countess Sonia (Karen Morley), and the strap on her gown has broken and is being repaired by some of the servants in the next room. Banter and innuendo ensues between the two.

Also at the party are collectors looking for more than a half million francs, which Charmerace promises to pay on the morrow. When the lights are turned out, women’s jewelry goes missing. The police search everyone, but the jewels are not found.

Gourneey-Martin has been at the party and asks Charmerace to come with him to the villa. He agrees and decides to bring Sonia along with him.  Guerchard is interested in this development, as Sonia notifies him about the trip, since she is working for the police.

Gourney-Martin shows Charmerace his safe which has no keyhole or combination. He asks Charmerace to open the door, but when he grasps the handle, he is shocked by the electric current which paralyzes his grip and he cannot let go of the door. Gourney-Martin laughs at the situation until Charmerace uses his free hand to grab Gourney-Martin who also is shocked. Gourney-Martin uses his free hand to flip the switch that turns off the current. He tells Charmerace about the jewels and bonds in the box. The bonds were obtained in a less than legal manner.

The rest of the film deals with Lupin taunting Guerchard and threatening to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre on the following day, in front of the police and Guerchard.

It is a pretty decent film. The two Barrymores show why they were among the most noted actors of their time. Many have played Lupin over the years and John Barrymore was among the best. So, if you have the chance, it is worth spending the 84 minutes with this one. A classic film featuring classic actors in classic roles.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything (1980)

The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything: Not a very good movie then and not a very good movie now.

This is the 156th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

One of my favorite writers of all time is John D. McDonald. I’ve read a lot of his books; at some point I will read many more. I read all the Travis McGee novels, but my all time favorite John D. McDonald novel is The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything. I’ve read it several times and I reviewed it as one of my Forgotten Books at some point in the past. I’m not sure when, because several of my reviews were lost when the Missions Unknown site succumbed to whatever evil it was that killed it. Some reviews had not been backed up (my very bad) and there are several which are not available in archived versions of the site.

So, when this book was announced as a made-for-TV movie in 1980, I was there waiting. I watched it. I was appalled. Kirby Winter was being played by Robert Hays, a TV actor who had not yet made his big splash in Airplane!, the film which was his next role. Pam Dawber, late of Mork and Mindy, was Bonnie Lee Beaumont, sporting a horrendous South Carolina accent.  My beloved book was being sanitized and bastardized into pabulum for the masses.

I still remember that paperback book cover which claimed “One day with Bonnie Lee was like a three-year lease on a harem.” Not in this version. “Throne Smith meets Mickey Spillane.” Not in this version.

So, for 35 years I have hated this film as the epitome of bad made-for-TV movies. And I was happy with that.

This week, I was going to watch Svengali with John Barrymore, a silent film that I had on VHS. I put the tape in and while the tape was moving, I was not getting the picture. I tried several times but it was just not tracking correctly…

So, suddenly I am looking for something to watch and review. I was sitting in the floor with the DVDs and was trying to decide. Should I do The Point with its wonderful soundtrack and hippy-dippy story? What about Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings? Or Roger Corman’s Forbidden World, an amazing Alien rip-off? All these were on the tapes in front of me. And I remembered that they were not going to last too much longer, as VHS tapes have a half life of 25 years or so (or at least that’s what I have been told). Anyway, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything popped up and the next thing I knew I was shoving it into the player and watching it.

The movie’s protagonist, Kirby Winter, is a lovable loser, who worked for his uncle Omar Krebs. His uncle, worth $220 million dollars has died and Kirby is anxious as the will is read. Turns out Kirby’s inheritance is a gold-plated watch. And that’s it.

Suddenly the Board of the Krebs Foundation is noting that Omar moved $75 million into a side venture OK Enterprises, which Kirby worked for. The only other employee, the sexually-repressed-and-not-loving-it Miss Wilma Farnham (Zohra Lampert), has burned all the company records according to Omar’s instructions.

As a result, Kirby and Wilma are being hunted for embezzlement. Omar’s competitors Joseph Locordolos (Ed Nelson) and Charla O’Rourke (Jill Ireland!) are trying to unearth Omar’s secrets and are using Kirby to try and find out anything.

This leads Kirby to find a new place to stay. His hotel manager, Hoover (Burton Gilliam, notable in Blazing Saddles, not so much here), finds him a friend’s apartment. While there, Kirby is visited by Bonnie Lee Beaumont, who mistakes him for her boyfriend. This mistake leads to anger and then strangely to attraction. While having a hot dog, Kirby accidentally sets the watch and finds that he can stop time around him. He is able to act while everyone remains frozen in the moment.

So far, the film is OK – not good but OK. But from here, it goes bad. The way to fix things seems to be to undress people or leave them in awkward situations. Dressing hired guns up as Las Vegas showgirls is TV-risqué but not particularly effective.

The film was not as bad as I remembered, but it is still not good. I saw this so you do not have to. Nor do you want to see the sequel, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Dynamite (1981), which thankfully does not feature Hays or Dawber but does not replace them with anyone better.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Forgotten Films: The Invisible Woman (1940)

The Invisible Woman: It's a fun flick if you also expect the logic to be invisible.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 134th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This summer, as every summer, TCM did their Summer Under the Stars festival and featured a star for every day. One of the days was devoted to Virginia Bruce (1910 – 1982), a star I was not very familiar with. She made a lot of films, one or two of which I had seen, but she was just not a name or face that I knew.

When browsing the TCM schedule I saw a listing for The Invisible Woman for the day with John Barrymore, Virginia Bruce and John Howard and a description of a vaguely sf-ish film, so I made the DVR work. A month has passed and it has been sitting on the DVR, and while I was searching for a film to review, this was the one that spoke to me.

This is a charming little film, no great work, not a movie of big thinks or anything special, but it has its moments. Richard Russell is a rich man with a fondness for women and scandal. He is supporting Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) at his home that spends a great deal of money on crackpot ideas.

When Russell finds out he is broke, he cuts off the money to Gibbs just when Gibbs has a potential gold mine. So Gibbs has to amend a personal ad for a volunteer for an experiment to be turned invisible. The previous listing of $3,000 remuneration has to be changed to no remuneration just as the ad is set to run. This elicits lots of snarky mail but only one response which is positive, from a K. Carroll. Gibbs sends a note for Mr. Carroll to be there at his lab the following day, unaware that K. Carroll is actually Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce).

Kitty works as a model for a dress shop run by Mr. Growley (Charles Lane), who is a mean spirited manager, docking Kitty an hour for clocking in two minutes late and firing another girl for having a cold. Jobs are hard to come by and he can get away with this. Kitty is willing to become invisible so she can give him what for.

Gibbs is, of course, surprised when K. Carroll turns out to be female and upset when she disappears from the lab as soon as she is invisible. This causes Russell to doubt the Professor’s veracity, much to the delight of his butler, George (Charles Ruggles) who dislikes the Professor intently. Russell heads out to his cabin to get away from everything including the Professor.

Kitty has to take off her clothes to be invisible, but she gets her revenge on Growley, pretending to be his conscience. She kicks him, destroys some dresses, and rips the time clock off the wall. When she returns to the Professor’s lab, he is being menaced by some thugs led by Foghorn (the wonderful Donald McBride) and his men, including Frankie (Shemp Howard, in an unexpected role). Foghorn works for criminal Blackie (Oskar Homolka) who is hiding out in Mexico unable to return and homesick.

Kitty spooks the thugs and they exit. Gibbs and Kitty go to the cabin, where they get caught in the rain. Kitty tries to warm herself up with some brandy and it increases the invisibility. Eventually Russell begins to believe that the gizmo works while Kitty has to sleep off her booze.

When they return to the lab, they find that Foghorn and his men have stolen all of the equipment (but not the injected serum) which helps control the process.

In Mexico, Foghorn is volunteered to try the process for Blackie and, without the injection, finds that it makes his voice higher and his height lower. Enter Kitty and the Professor to try and reclaim the equipment, while Russell, who is falling in love with Kitty, follows.

True love triumphs and the film closes with Russell and Kitty examining their baby boy some distinct time in the future. The child promptly fades away.

As I said, not a major film, but I had fun with it. Common sense does not bother to intrude into the film plot. But I enjoyed it. In addition to Shemp, another surprise guest was Margaret Hamilton, just a year after the Wizard of Oz as Gibbs’ housekeeper. Also Maria Montez appears briefly as one of Kitty’s co-workers modeling dresses.

Don’t rush out to find it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it’s worth a watching.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.