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Arsène Lupin Returns

USA 1938
produced by
John W. Considine jr for MGM
directed by George Fitzmaurice
starring Melvyn Douglas, Virginia Bruce, Warren William, John Halliday, Nat Pendleton, Monty Woolley, E.E. Clive, George Zucco, Rollo Lloyd, Vladimir Sokoloff, Ian Wolfe, Tully Marshall, Jonathan Hale
screenplay by James Kevin McGuiness, Howard Emmett Rogers, George Harmon Coxe, based on characters created by Maurice Leblanc, music by Franz Waxman

Arsène Lupin

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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G-man turned insurance detective Steve Emerson (Warren William) is sent to Paris to guard the priceless emerald of the Count de Grissac (John Halliday), after an unsuccessful attempt to steal it has already been made in New York City. Emerson suspects the attempt to be the work of notorious but presumably dead jewelthief Arsène Lupin, and suspects him to strike again in France - but he doesn't know yet how close Lupin is to the emerald, because Rene Ferrand (Melvyn Douglas), the fiancé of the count's daughter Lorraine (Virginia Bruce) is none other than the masterthief himself, having assumed the identity of a gentleman farmer.

Lupin is paid a visit by two of his oldest and most loyal companions (Nat Pendleton, E.E. Clive), but when they question him about the foiled emerald theft in New York, he claims he had nothing to do with it, and has gone straight and narrow, not in the least for Lorraine's sake. The next day, the emerald is gone, with Arsène Lupin's signature left behind, and now Lupin admits to his companions that it was really him, the lure of the emerald was just too strong. By now, Emerson is already on his trail. However, the more Lupin insists he has stolen the emerald, the more he gets caught up in contradictions - and eventually, he and his friends steal it back from the fence (Tully Marshall) he has allegedly brought it to, to find the fence killed by someone else. and once Lupin has the emerald, he insists to have it returned to the count. Because you know, he really has gone straight, has never actually stolen the emerald, and now needs to return it to the count to have it stolen again by the real thief so he can catch the thief red-handed (quite literally, as it will turn out).

To everyone's surprise, the emerald is returned, only Emerson seems to know exactly who returned it, but though he pretends to play cat-and-mouse with Lupin - but always seems to intentionally leave Lupin a backdoor ... and after the emerald is finally stolen again, the prefect of police (George Zucco) suspects and arrests both Lupin and Emerson - before the two of them can prove the guilty party to be Georges (Monty Woolley), the gambling nephew of the count, Emerson by deduction, and Lupin by simply having applied some lipstick to the safe containing the emerald, which has then rubbed off on Georges' hands (red-handed, get it?).

So, Lupin hasn't done anything wrong (in this picture) at all, and thus he gets the girl, while his secret remains safe with Steve Emerson, who has of course long figured Lupin out ...

 

If you're at all into movies from the 1930's, you'll probably find yourself liking this film: It sports a good cast, some poignant dialogue, and its subtly and elegantly directed. Yet at the same time, you'll probably find yourself not loving the movie, you'll find yourself having forgotten it in a few days or so, you'll find yourself not really caring for it.

So if everything I have mentioned above is right with the movie, what's wrong with it?

Very probably, it's just too harmless. Sure, there are a few murders and thefts in the film, but its main focus, Arsène Lupin, normally an extremely cunning and shrewd criminal with his own moral code, is turned into a regular saint here - and to be honest, that derives the film of much of its tension, makes it almost predictable (despite some unexpected plottwists) and even a tad boring.

Having said that though, the film is by no means terrible, as mentioned above, it's evenb likeable - it's just a longshot from great.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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