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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
reasonably diverting curiosity held together by Sanders
George Sanders as Eugene Francois Vidocq, a clever French crook (and a very flimsy representation of the amazing real-life template), is both the lead actor and narrator of this film in which he neatly swindles his way from a lowly prison cell to the top of French society delivering a bounty of aphorisms along the way. The real-life Vidocq began as a rough-and- tumble child criminal and ended up a government minister.
Sanders basically delivers the same polished performance seen in numerous other films, from "Man Hunt" (1941), through "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) and "All About Eve" (1950): the cool, cultivated, continental, dry wit with just the right suggestion of the animal beneath. Carole Landis, in what may be her finest role, is both funny and chilling as a self-centered show girl who blatantly uses her beauty to catch wealthy men. Signe Hasso (who looks distractingly like Margaret Sullavan) plays the daughter of the minister of police; she falls in love with Sanders but is as lifeless and damp here as she is vivacious and crackling in "The House on 92nd Street," made the year before.
The film is obviously 100% studio made, with painted backdrops to represent the French countryside. But since scenery is not the point here, this drawback can be overlooked. It's an unusual film about an extraordinary man, here reduced to a sort of Sherlock Holmes who strides both sides of the law.
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