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Arsène Lupin

USA 1932
produced by
Samuel Goldwyn for MGM
directed by Jack Conway
starring John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Karen Morley, John Miljan, Tully Marshall, Henry Armetta, George Davis, John Davidson, James T.Mack, Mary Jane Irving, Mischa Auer, Theodore Lorch, Nicholas Soussanin
screenplay by Carey Wilson, dialogue by Lenore J.Coffee, Bayard Veiller, based on the play by Maurice Leblanc, Francis de Croisset, based on characters created by Maurice Leblanc, music by Alfred Newman

Arsène Lupin

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The police are in hot pursuit of master thief Arsène Lupin, who has just robbed the house of Gaston Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall), but when they catch up with Lupin's car, all they find is the Duke of Charmerace (John Barrymore) in the back, all tied up. Detective Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) still thinks he has captured Lupin, mainly because nobody knows what Lupin looks like, but has not a single piece of evidence to corroborate his suspicion.

A party at Charmerace's place: Detective Guerchard has the party infiltrated by his men, but when Charmerace spots Guerchard in the crowd, he plays a prank on him, and has him held on suspicion of being Arsène Lupin - after all, he might be as well as anyone else, and he carries no police ID with him. Shortly thereafter though, several of Charmerace's guests are robbed, by Arsène Lupin, presumably. So IF Charmerace was Arsène Lupin, he would have outsmarted Guerchard, right?

Wrong, because Guerchard has placed a special undercover spy, Sonia (Karen Morley), literally under the covers of Charmerace's bed, pretty m,uch hoping that he would show interest and confide in her in return. It seems to work, too, Charmerace really takes a liking in Sonia - but the plan has a couple of flaws, on one hand, Sonia takes a liking in Charmerace as well, and Charmerace has long guessed she's one of Guerchard's spies, but goes along for the ride.

Charmerace and Sonia soon pay a visit to Gourney-Martin's villa in the country, where he keeps all of his really valuabe stuff, and detective Guerchard is hot on their trail, because he knows Arsène Lupin will strike there that night. So he has the place surrounded by his men and spends the night in the villa himself. The next day, the villa is emptied of everything that's worth anything, and it was actually Guerchard's policemen who were committing the crime ... or rather the crooks who Arsène Lupin has substituted them with. The crooks are soon found, but neither the loot, nor Arsène Lupin himself. What's worse though, Sonia gives Charmerace an airtight alibi, much to the dismay of Guerchard, who still thinks Charmerace is Lupin - so he promises to throw Sonia back into jail (she was not an undercover police officer but a paroled criminal, it now turns out). Charmerace helps Sonia to escape though, while he himself gets away scot free - after all, there is not the smallest piece of evidence against him.

Arsène Lupin promises to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre next, and even gives detective Guerchard a concrete date. Now stealing the Mona Lisa would of course be a dumb thing because you likely won't be able to sell the painting, but Lupin does it mainly to press his men free who were arrested in the last heist. Oh, and of course Arsène Lupin now turns out to be Charmerace after all - not that there was much doubt beforehands, but now the viewer's suspicions are confirmed. Now it would be hard for Charmerace to get the Mona Lisa out of the Louvre when it's highly guarded by Guerchard and his men who are all on the lookout for him - so he disguises as a flower vendor, has his men create distraction after distraction, then ignores the publicly exhibited Mona Lisa, which is a fake planted by Guerchard, but goes for the real one in the vault, then smuggles the painting out of the museum right under Guerchard's nose.

The flower vendor-disguise leads to Arsène Lupin's downfall however, because Guerchard captures the real flower vendor Lupin was disguised as and has him lead him to Lupin ...

Cornered, Charmerace/Lupin makes the best of it and sees to it that Sonia goes free and his men are set free (in exchange for the Mona Lisa), then he tries to threaten Guerchard by claiming he has kidnapped his daughter (which is true) to sell her into white slavery - but Guerchard sees through Charmerace and knows he would never be able to do such a thing. So he arrests him and Charmerace, never a bad loser, sets Guerchard's daughter free nevertheless.

On the way to prison though, Guerchard lets Charmerace escape, but makes sure everybody thinks he has shot him dead ...

 

Old-fashioned but charming crime movie that relies more on pointed dialogue than actual action (though the few action scenes are well-executed) and lives from its excellent principal cast (even if Lionel Barrymore as limping detective overdoes it at times). That said, the film is hardly a classic, but more a typical product of its time - but as such it's very enjoyable.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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