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Mária Tasnádi Fekete
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The autobiography of elegant criminal, François Eugène Vidocq, from his birth in a French jail in 1775 to his appointment as chief of police of Paris where he intends to rob the city bank. Along the way, he escapes from jail with Emile, who becomes his partner in crime, poses as a lieutenant to rob a showgirl of her ruby garter, and steals the jewels of a marquise in whose home he's a guest. He's also posed as an artist's model for a portrait of St. George (Emile's face is the dragon's), and the marquise's granddaughter falls in love first with his visage and then him. Can she help him slay his own dragons, especially when the showgirl reappears and the bank vault beckons? Written by
A kind of anti-Les Miserables, this sophisticated period comedy inverts conventional morality, following a thief/scoundrel as he rises to become the chief of police of Paris. This makes an ideal showcase for George Sanders at his peak of suavity, which he maintains even in a blond wig while posing for a portrait of St. George [this evolves into a theme of the film: "In all of us there is a St. George and a dragon"]. Naturally, Sanders effortlessly spins aphorisms: on adultery, he murmurs, "Sometimes the chains of matrimony are so heavy they have to be carried by three".
Very much a production of displaced Europeans [Sirk, Shuftan, Eisler, Pressburger], the story celebrates a continental tolerance ["No man is a saint"]. Douglas Sirk clearly enjoys the subversive charm of the criminal mind which stays sharp by exploring all the possibilities for larceny. However, Sirk is not cruel: the provincial victims are not buffoons; they are just not sharp enough to see all the angles in each situation. He does not mock the cheerful dowager [Alma Kruger] who is eager for more adventurous company, and even the bumbling cuckold [Gene Lockhart] is ultimately touching when he disguises himself as a canary-merchant.
Like its contemporary, Renoir's DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, this sometimes seems like a European film trapped in Hollywood. However, while the first hour sometimes strains to be "naughty" [as in a decorous skinny-dipping scene], Sirk is able to unify the tone more successfully than Renoir. If Signe Hasso seems a bit old [at 30] as the wide-eyed ingenue, and Carole Landis struggles through her music hall number, Sirk guides both of them to satisfying moments, justifying their casting. The plot involving a garter made of rubies, a monkey called Satan, and a Chinese carousel with a giant Pekinese to ride -- develops increasingly clever and surprising twists, to a pleasing conclusion.
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