Monday, March 7, 2011

How did they get away with it

The little-seen movie I Was An Adventuress is coming up tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel. It's interesting in a whole bunch of ways, and deserves to be seen.

First is the two men who are paired together: Erich von Stroheim and Peter Lorre. They're only billed third and fourth, but they (especially von Stroheim) make the movie run. They play a pair of confidence men (Andre and Polo) plying their trade across Europe bilking people out of substantial sums of money. They do this with the help of their partner in crime, the phony countess Vronsky (played by Vera Zorina, who gets top billing in this movie under the name "Zorina"). She's got a costume necklace, but the con game involves getting the mark to believe that the necklace is real, and then bilking the mark out of a substantial sum of money by selling the phony necklace for good money.

This routine goes well until the Countess meets French businessman Paul Vernay (Richard Green) on the Riviera. He's supposed to be their next mark, but she finds herself falling in love with him, and unable to go through with the con. Andre, who is really the brains of the operation, insists that she do just this last one, but it winds up a failure. The Countess runs off with Paul, unbeknownst to Andre and Polo, who go to Budapest awaiting the Countess.

Fast foward several months. Vronsky is now Mrs. Vernay, a ballet dancer who is trying to forget her past. She'd be able to do it, too, except that Andre and Polo are going around Europe looking for her, and eventually find her. Andre will stop at nothing to get her to return to the con game, and has a bit of an advantage in that he can blackmail her.

There's something odd about I Was An Adventuress, and yet something still quite enjoyable about it. First, the title is misleading, in that it really implies exotic locations that just aren't a part of the story. But that's minor. The putative "adventuress", Vera Zorina, was one of those European actresses who was imported to the US in the hopes of making her the next big European thing. We saw this back in the mid-1930s when people like Anna Sten were brought over after the success of Marlene Dietrich; by 1940 hiring people like Zorina was an attempt to emulate the success of the new big European actress, Ingrid Bergman. Zorina is good enough here, although she didn't become a big actress, going back to the stage.

Erich von Stroheim and Peter Lorre make a really interesting pair, and I can't help but wonder if the relationship between Andre and Polo was supposed to be a homosexual one that couldn't get past the Production Code. The two aren't quite as out there as the leads in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, but they have a dynamic that is interesting, to say the least. Speaking of the Production Code, I really wonder how the ending got past the enforcers. In theory, crime should never pay. The writers do come with an ending in which you can argue it hasn't paid for Andre and Polo, but then again maybe it still will. For Vronsky, she winds up happily married to Vernay at the end, seemingly never to face any charges. It really surprises me that the Code office let all three main characters get off so easily.

I Was An Adventuress isn't available on DVD, so you're going to have to watch the Fox Movie Channel showing.

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