Besides an entirely uninspired title, Jewel Robbery is a film busy with destroying an otherwise great plot concept. I am always one to jump on an opportunity to watch William Powell, and I enjoyed him paired with Kay Francis in One Way Passage incidentally from the same year, but in this pairing, the two flounder in a convoluted and unrealistic story.
Set in Vienna, Francis is Baroness Teri, a woman utterly bored with her life married to a 50-something man with persistent gout, who attempts to find excitement in men and jewels. It is no surprise then that Teri is quite taken by the handsome robber who burgles the jewelry shop where she has just acquired a 28-carat diamond ring. Powell (credited as “robber”) is a high-class, sophisticated thief who plans his raids to perfection. He worries not about Teri, her husband and lover, and the shopkeeper all being on site while he commits his crime. He calmly talks to the hostages while his men pack the entire shop’s contents into two suitcases. The robber even convinces a police officer to load the parcels into his car and guard them until he leaves. The team gives the shop owner a funny cigarette that makes him giggle and pass out, and lock Teri’s two men into a safe. Teri refuses to be locked away and promises she does not want to see the man arrested. When the robber says he could kiss her, Teri closes her eyes and poses, but is left hanging.
Next, the robber sneaks into Teri’s mansion because he is infatuated with her, as she is him. He wants her to come away with him, but the woman is mildly torn. Some complications with the police end the film in uncertainty, but we are pretty sure Teri will run off to meet her mysterious new love.
I do not think the concept of a bored woman of wealth and position finding excitement and love with a classy thief is a necessarily original or far-fetched concept for a film –in fact, it offers a potentially fun story. Jewel Robbery, however, seems to muck it up. The first half of the film persists in the jewelry store as we watch Teri instantly fall for the man who absconds with her ring. But Teri throws herself at the robber a bit too obviously and quickly. And whereas the story could have fun with the two running off together at that point, Teri seemingly as a hostage, and evading the police, instead the two have to reunite.
The robber uses some goofy maneuvering to get Teri to his place, where she almost takes off with a jewel case –but changes her mind in time to warn her love of the approaching police. It is unclear which is more important to the woman –love and excitement or jewels. One would think her obsession with precious stones is merely a substitute for the adventure and emotional enjoyment her life lacks, but apparently she is truly that greedy and vain. Additionally, nothing very physically passionate happens between the two until a kiss at the end.
The second half of Jewel Robbery is fairly sloppy. I think the story could have worked better if Teri was a resistant lover. Although the audience could suspect she is charmed by the criminal, allow him to do the forcing and pursuing. Powell gives a fine performance, he is just trapped in a disappointing narrative. Francis is okay, but not great. Also, I have never before noticed the speech impediment that seems to prevent Francis from pronouncing her Rs. Besides all the other problems with this film, perhaps it was unwise to put her in a movie about wobbers –I mean robbers.