Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall
SUMMARY: In Venice, renowned thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) robs a wealthy man named Francois Filiba by pretending to be a doctor examining his tonsils, then knocking him out. The police are completely befuddled by the events, but one person knows what happened: Lily (Miriam Hopkins), who is also a thief. She and Gaston are both in Venice under false identities, but recognize each other as thieves and fall in love. They also decide to team up, and head to Paris. They target Madame Colet (Kay Francis), the sole heir to a perfume fortune after the death of her husband. Madame Colet has very little interest in financial matters, and is more interested in the fancy things she can buy. She also has to deal with two suitors: a military man simply referred to as “the Major” and Francois Filiba. While at the opera one night, Colet “loses” her expensive handbag, which is later returned by Gaston. While his original intent was to collect the reward for the missing bag, Gaston manages to parlay the encounter into a job as Colet’s personal secretary, in charge of her personal finances. He quickly brings in Lily, in the role of his assistant/typist. Gaston immediately begins to make changes, arranging things so that there is more money kept in the house safe. He and Lily plan to rob the safe at a later date, then make their getaway.
However, complications quickly begin to arrive. During the process of getting close to Colet, Gaston develops actual feelings for her, and vice versa. Gaston’s actions raise the suspicions of the head of the board of directors, and Filiba is convinced that he has met Gaston somewhere before. It is only after a series of coincidences that Filiba finally realizes that Gaston is the same man who robbed him in Venice. Gaston and Lily realize that the game is up, and make plans to head to Berlin that night, after robbing the safe while Colet is at a dinner party. However, Colet nearly stays home in order to be with Gaston, who has completely fallen for her. When she does go to the party, Filiba tries to warn her about Gaston, but she refuses to listen. Back at the house, Lily has realized what is going on between Gaston and Colet, and guesses (correctly) that he isn’t going to go through with the plan. She opens the safe and takes the money herself, planning to head to Berlin on her own. Colet returns home to Gaston, who tells her that he has robbed the safe. Colet seems to accept this, but Lily abruptly returns, announcing that it was she who took the money. Colet eventually allows Lily to keep the money and leave; after a tender moment in which Colet and Gaston wonder what things could have been like for them, he also leaves. In the car, Gaston reveals to Lily that he stole Colet’s pearl necklace for her — but Lily has already nabbed it off him. She, in turn, stole the expensive bag that started everything; Gaston reveals the cash he took from Lily’s purse. The film ends with the two laughing and hugging each other.
MY TAKE: I really like Ernst Lubitsch movies. They’re kind of a genre all their own: they’re too clever to be pure romantic comedies, yet not zany enough to be screwball. There’s always a lot of sly, tongue-in-cheek remarks from the characters, usually in reference to taboo subjects like sex (the Production Code, although it wasn’t in effect yet for this movie). He also usually has at least one character who can talk circles around everybody else. This causes a lot of hilarity, as this character can get other people to say almost anything, no matter how ridiculous. In this case, it’s Gaston, although Lily does it to some degree as well. Basically, they come off as a lot smarter than everybody else around them, particularly the rich people they’re swindling. Gaston also manages to befuddle the head of the board of directors, which is pretty amusing. I wish that we would have had a bit more of an introduction to the two thieves, particularly Gaston, as I kinda felt like we were just thrown into the middle of the movie. I also thought it would have been terrific if somehow Colet had been onto Gaston and Lily the whole time, and ended up getting the best of them. I had a hard time having a lot of sympathy for Gaston, because he came off like a bit of a jerk with the two women thing. I thought Colet was an amusing airhead, but Lily was a hoot. Gaston seems to be the dominant partner in their relationship, both personal and professional, but just when it seems like she’s been railroaded, she one-ups him. Maybe she’s been manipulating Gaston the whole time: after all, she does end up with him, the money, the necklace and the expensive bag.
Fun fact: The Major is played by Charles Ruggles, who I will always think of as the grandfather in the original Parent Trap.