What better film to watch during a Barrymore blogathon than a film that features BOTH John and Lionel Barrymore! And one that is a ton of fun to boot!
In ARSENE LUPIN, Lionel Barrymore is police detective Guerchard who is called out to a robbery in progress. Once there the police chase a fleeing car only to find the passenger tied up in the backseat. The man (John Barrymore) claims to have just been robbed by the notorious Arsene Lupin, saying he is the Duke of Charmerace. Guerchard doesn’t believe this for a second and suspects that this man is in fact Arsene Lupin. However another man named Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall) returns to the house and confirms the identity of the passenger as the Duke of Charmerace. Strangely enough the next day Guerchard finds that the shoe impressions taken from the outside of the scene of the crime are an exact match for his own shoes! Perplexed he goes to see the chief of police where he is told that if he wants to retire quietly to the country with his daughter he needs to do one last thing, and that is to catch Arsene Lupin! The police have just received a note from Lupin telling them that he will be at the Duke of Charmerace’s ball that night to take whatever he wants. Geurchard decides to go to the ball himself just to make sure that nothing goes wrong.
The Duke of Charmerace is having some issues of his own. Two bailiffs have arrived asking to collect past due bills. He manages to fob them off with drinks and food, while he returns to his ball. He sees Geurchard enter and begin talking to another male guest, who is an undercover policeman. It turns out that there are hidden police officers throughout the ball in an effort to trap Arsene Lupin should he try anything. At this point, the Duke is up in his bedroom where he has found a naked woman in his bed. The Countess Sonia Krichnoff (Karen Morley) claims that her evening gown is being mended in the other room and since she was cold, she took refuge under the covers of the Duke’s bed. After some risqué flirtation the Duke and Sonia rejoin the party and just in time for some cake. Unfortunately, as the lights are down for the cake’s arrival several ladies find that they are missing various pieces of jewelry. Sonia has lost a bracelet and she hurries to find the Duke. At this moment Guerchard’s men spring into action but Geurchard is nowhere to be found. He is a little preoccupied at the moment, being held at gunpoint by the two bailiffs upstairs who have mistaken him for Arsene Lupin. Once released by the two men, Geurchard begins the send all the guests downstairs to be questioned. However, he has a private word alone with the Countess Sonia before sending her on with the others.
Later the Duke and the Countess find themselves invited to Gourney-Martin’s home for the weekend. While there the Duke and Sonia continue their flirtations and Gourney-Martin demonstrates his new electrified safe. One morning Sonia awakes to find a real bracelet in place of her fake one from none other than Arsene Lupin. Tourney-Martin has also had a visit from Lupin, though his is far less pleasant. Lupin has left a note saying that he will come back and steal everything Tourney-Martin has because he is a war profiteer. Geurchard is called to the house at once to be there when Lupin makes his entrance. But who Arsene Lupin really? Is everyone who they appear to be?
I really enjoyed this film. It is so much fun and really a joy to watch. It is smart, sexy, witty, and exciting. I loved the character of Sonia because she was used as more than just a placeholder in a slinky evening dress. She holds her own alongside the boys and is just as cunning and clever as the real Arsene Lupin. You simply could not have this film without her character or her story. Sonia is a complex, clever, and interesting woman, and is more than capable of handling Arsene Lupin and his ruses.
The Barrymore brothers are really hitting on all cylinders with this one. Lionel Barrymore is fantastic as usual, bringing a gravitas to his role but also a sense of under doggedness. You really sense that he respects Arsene Lupin as a foe and is quite determined to catch the thief no matter what it takes. Lionel Barrymore is such a great actor that he is always terrific in anything and often acts as the grounding force in a film. He does the same here, keeping the story feeling more real and more “risky”. Where the story could get away and become almost too fantastic, Lionel Barrymore makes it more meaningful and more impactful. He is not the usual bumbling detective, rather he is a smart man trying his best to outwit a man who might just be a little more clever than him.
For his part John Barrymore seems to be having the time of his life. He is fabulous as the Duke of Charmerace. He is funny and charming, also just mischievous enough to make you question his motives. He seems to enjoy playing off his brother as well, particularly in the scenes where he gets to make a fool of him. One can’t help but wonder if there was some similarity in the relationship between the Duke of Charmerace and Geurchard, and that of John and Lionel Barrymore in real life. John Barrymore is definitely the star of this tale and he really carries the film forward. Where his brother brings a sense of grounding to the story, John Barrymore makes things seems just a little more fun and fantastical. It is really is thanks to him and his interactions with everyone else that ARSENE LUPIN is as much fun as it is.