A charming and very daring thief known as Arsene Lupin is terrorizing the wealthy of Paris, he even goes so far as to threaten the Mona Lisa. But the police, led by the great Guerchard, think they know Arsene Lupin's identity, and they have a secret weapon to catch him.Written by
Ken Yousten <email@example.com>
As a kid, I used to watch the Japanese anime series updating the exploits of the titular jewel thief (where he was depicted as an over- sexed buffoon, flanked by a shapely girl and two taciturn but deadly accomplices!) – though I have yet to check out the renowned Hayao Miyazaki's 1979 feature-length THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO inspired from it, which I acquired some time ago. I also own and am already familiar with two well-regarded French efforts (retaining the turn-of-the-century setting), namely THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN (1957; stylishly helmed by Jacques Becker) and SIGNED, ARSENE LUPIN (1959); for the record, others which intrigue me are the 1962 ARSENE LUPIN VS. ARSENE LUPIN and the 1971 TV series, both also emanating from the character's 'native' country.
However, the film under review – which I had first acquired via a TV-to- VHS-to-DVD conversion of poor quality, but which I eventually upgraded (albeit still culled from a TCM screening) – remains perhaps the most popular rendition of this debonair figure; by the way, I also have in my collection its direct but-as-yet unwatched 1938 sequel ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS. Incidentally, such gentlemen crooks were a regular feature of pulp fiction (notably the similarly much-filmed "Raffles": I own versions of it dating from 1917 – starring, as here, John Barrymore – 1925, 1930 – alas, only a TV-to-VHS copy – and 1939!) until they made way for more ruthless and ambitious criminal masterminds such as Fantomas and Dr. Mabuse.
Anyway, this classy production – best-known for first teaming John with his elder brother Lionel (they would appear together 5 times in 2 years, on one of which they were even joined by sister Ethel!) – is most enjoyable, with a plot which has since become a cliché: the protagonist's duality (hiding under an air of respectability and, at one point, the guise of an aged flower-seller to pull off a daring 'job' at the Louvre); the analogous deception by the woman in his life (or, more precisely, the one he finds in his bed – a delightfully racy scene for an MGM picture but, then, this was a "Pre-Code" release – during a reception!); Lupin's tenacious, but ultimately sympathetic, antagonist (whose physical attributes – including a prominent limp – actually fit the description of the 'villain' as given by an eye-witness!); the ultra-modern gadgets (a safe without the proverbial combination but 'armed' with an electrical charge), etc.
John Barrymore's famed good looks ("The Great Profile" was 50 at the time) and up-till-then infrequently-tapped comic timing (though he would increasingly come to rely upon it for the rest of his career!) make him, respectively, ideal casting and a pleasure to watch; for what it is worth, I have as many as 23 titles of his still to go through even if only 4 fall into my current exercise of movie viewing based on all-time best polls and the higher ratings bestowed by Leslie Halliwell and Leonard Maltin!
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