Watching With Warner: ARSENE LUPIN (1932) / ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS (1938)

My month of Warner Archive is coming to a close and we are wrapping things up with a double feature!  First up we have ARSENE LUPIN from 1932, starring Lionel and John Barrymore, followed by ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS from 1938 which stars Melvyn Douglas, Warren William, and Virginia Bruce.

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?

In ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS, F.B.I. agent Steve Emerson (Warren William) is the hottest ticket item since Arsene Lupin.  And that is just the problem.  Every newspaper in the country has his face plastered all over it and so every criminal knows just what he looks like.  His boss requests that Steve hands in his resignation and Steve does so with little hesitation.  Taking on the job of private detective he goes to meet his first client and finds a room of people bound and gagged.  It turns out that the Count de Grissac (John Halliday), his niece Lorraine (Virginia Bruce), and cousin George Bouchet (Monty Woolley) have been robbed.  Luckily it turns out that the thief made off with a paste imitation of the famous de Grissac emerald.  Steve notices a card with the signature Arsene Lupin on it, along with a bullet left behind in a wall.  He hurriedly takes both pieces of evidence and then offers to return to France with the de Grissac family in an effort to help them protect the emerald.  He also has become taken with Lorraine and is anxious to find more time to spend with her.

Disembarking in Paris, Lorraine and Steve are met at the dock by Lorraine’s fiancee Rene Farrand.  Rene comes bearing gifts and Steve, whether from jealousy over Lorraine’s affections or actual police instinct, is immediately suspicious of the gentleman farmer.  It turns out that he has reason to be suspicious as we will soon see.  Two men show up at Rene’s home later that week.  They are Joe Doyle (Nat Pendleton) and Alf (E.E. Clive), and they are looking for Arsene Lupin.  They find him in the back taking in some target practice, because as it turns out Rene is Arsene Lupin.  Joe and Alf present Rene with the day’s newspaper which is splashed with the headline ARSENE LUPIN ALIVE?  They wonder if Rene is getting back in the game but they are to be disappointed.  Rene is retired and he had nothing to do with the emerald or any of the other crimes being attributed to Lupin.  Obviously there is a copycat at large.

Arsene Lupin is a gentleman thief and master of disguise created by Maurice LeBlanc, and featured in twenty novels and twenty-eight short stories.  Lupin first appeared in Je sais tout issue number six in 1905, and has been inspiring adaptations ever since.  The first Arsene Lupin movie was made in 1908 and even as recently as 2011.  These two films are not the only Arsene Lupin films but they are definitely among the best.  Both are well written and enjoyable caper films, each having a great cast of actors to bring the stories to life.  But how do they compare to each other?

The 1938 film is often dismissed as being not as good as the 1932 film, and is usually not rated very well.  I am guessing that this is because it is being compared directly to the 1932 film and not by itself.  I found this film quite enjoyable and well done.  The dialogue is witty and fun, the story is well plotted and moves quickly.  The cast is terrific with Melvyn Douglas doing a great job as a suave ne’er do-well and Warren William is perfectly cool as the American G-Man on the hunt for Lupin, as well as love.  And any time that I see Monty Wooley on-screen makes me very happy.  My only quibble would be that Virginia Bruce’s character is very under-utilized, to the point that the entire “love triangle” subplot could probably be cut out without changing much of the film.  However, this film is a very good example of a 1938 romantic comedy/romp and should not be so easily dismissed.  I think that this is an example of a film suffering because it is considered a sort-of sequel to the 1932 version and that is a shame because it really is quite a fun movie.

That having been said there is a definite magic in the 1932 ARSENE LUPIN.  Both Barrymore brothers are hitting on all cylinders, and John Barrymore especially seems to be having a ball.  This film really has you guessing for a little while, wondering who is Arsene Lupin really and how will he get away with everything?  The story is engaging and surprising, and the entire cast is fantastic.  The character of Sonia especially deserves to be mentioned because she might just be the entire reason why this movie is in some ways superior to the 1938 version.  Where the Virginia Bruce character is relegated to window dressing between Warren William and Melvyn Douglas, Karen Morley is given a much meatier role with far more impact on the film.  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.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these films which are part of a double-feature from the Warner Archive.  Even though I have a preference for the 1932 film, both are well worth seeing and I can recommend both.  You can also see ARSENE LUPIN on Warner Archive Instant so you have no excuse not to!

Watching With Warner: FROM HEADQUARTERS (1930)

Who’s up for a lovely murder?  If you like LAW AND ORDER or NCIS or any of their various incarnations, you might just like this forgotten pre-code from the Warner Archive!

It’s a usual day in police headquarters.  The usual suspects are being brought in for a lineup, complete with at least one person claiming to be a friend to the commissioner.  Reporters are poking around for a story and bailsmen are poking around for a customer.  Safecracker Muggs (Hobart Cavanaugh) has been brought in for questioning in a recent rash of robberies (who doesn’t love a good bit of alliteration?).  In the police laboratory things are going like clockwork causing the pathologist to sigh, “What I wouldn’t give for a nice juicy murder.”  Well, he is about to get his wish.

A dead body has been found, you say? Marvelous!

The call comes in that a dead body has been found in a uptown apartment in the city.  The victim, one Gordon Bates, is an eccentric gun collector.  However, the cause of death is quickly ruled a homicide and not a suicide as first thought.  Young Lt. Jim Stevens (George Brent) is paired with veteran detective Sgt. Boggs (Eugene Pallette), and the pair hurries off to the scene of the crime.  There they find Bates dead of a gunshot through the eye and a set of finger prints on a dueling pistol.  Bringing the evidence back to headquarters, the lab technicians get to work and soon identify the fingerprints as belonging to Broadway actress Lou Ann Winton (Margaret Lindsey).

What do you mean my old flame is accused of murder?

Jim is shocked and certain that Lou Ann can’t have anything to do with the murder.  He admits that he knows her and can’t think of any reason why she would kill Bates, though he hasn’t seen her for some time.  About this time, Bates’ lawyer turns up along with a man named Anderzian (Robert Barrat).  The lawyer says that he is the sole executor of Bates’ will and that Anderzian has some letters that were in the dead man’s possession and that he would like returned.  Since no such letters have yet been recovered the two men take their leave, with Anderzian being very careful to hide his face as they pass Muggs on the way out.

The police begin to question members of Bates’ household, starting with his butler Horton (Murray Kinnell).  Horton relates that he heard Bates’ talking to someone in his study around 10:30 or so last night.  After that he went to bed and heard nothing all night.  In the morning when he went into the study he found the lights still on and Bates dead on the floor.  He can offer no more information except to identify Lou Ann as Bates’ fiancée, much to Jeff’s surprise.  Lou Ann is soon brought in for questioning and she denies knowing anything.  After some prodding she finally admits that she was at Bates’ apartment and touched the dueling pistols when he showed them to her.  She also admits that she struggled with him when he tried to make her his mistress, but she insists that she did not kill him.  Her story is backed up by the forensics lab, who have found hairs under Bates’ fingernails that do not belong to her.  They are the hairs of a young man with red hair, and one such man has just turned up at headquarters asking for his sister Lou Ann.

There’s your problem right there…

Boggs is now convinced that Lou Ann’s brother Jack (Theodore Winton) is the true murderer and that Lou Ann is helping to cover it up.  He subjects Lou Ann and Jack to more extensive questioning while Jeff goes back over the evidence.  Jack admits that he was in Bates’ apartment and that he walked in on him assaulting his sister.  He admits to beating Bates’ up and that Bates drew a gun on him.  He says that Bates fired a shot and then he disarmed him.  He sent Lou Ann from the room and read Bates’ the riot act, but then he says he left and Bates’ was alive when he did.  Frustrated, Boggs goes out into the hallway where he is met by Muggs who has just seen in the paper that Bates’ is dead.  He tries to tell Boggs that this could not be true because he saw Bates alive and well in his apartment after 11:30 last night.  Boggs thinks that this is hogwash because not only did the lab tests put the time of death between 10:30 and 11 o’clock, but also because Muggs claims that Bates didn’t have a mark on him and they already know Jack beat him up.  New results are in from the lab and they don’t help matters much.  The dueling pistol that was thought to have been the murder weapon turned out not to be, and the one that did kill Bates has been wiped clean of prints.  Jeff goes back to Lou Ann and begs her to tell him the whole story.

Time to talk Lou Ann…

This is a really interesting pre-code.  There is some violence and up-front talk of sexuality, but that isn’t why I found it so intriguing.  From what I read, this is a very accurate portrayal of police technology of the time.  The scenes in the police laboratory are really fascinating, depicting finger print, blood type, and bullet analysis.  The police utilize an electronic sorting matching and IBM punch cards to search their database of suspects, perhaps the earliest example of this on film.  There are plenty of examples of how police work has changed over the years, for example police getting fingerprints from their suspects without their knowledge and questioning them without an attorney.  For someone who has watched more modern police dramas this was an interesting juxtaposition, and I can’t help but wonder what police detectives from the 1930s would make of our society today.

The murder mystery is pretty well done, and for a sixty-five minute film it is a fun ride.  Robert Barrat is always a favorite of mine and his character of Anderzian is a cool customer.  George Brent and Eugene Pallett are quintessential young blood/old blood police officers, and the pathologist played by Edward Ellis is hysterical.  All in all this is a unique look into the police force of the 1930s and the scientific breakthroughs that were in use at the time.  Director William Dieterle has put together a fast paced murder mystery to go along with this inside look, and the result is crime solving fun.