Plot: Teri (Kay Francis) lives a lavish lifestyle and can have whatever she wants, but she can’t seem to find the one thing she’d like to have, an exciting, romantic new affair to lose herself in. Her husband is rich and spoils her, but she finds him dull and even her extramarital dalliances have left her cold. As she can’t seem to sate her desire for thrills, she settles for expensive jewelry and her latest whim is the Excelsior diamond, a most impressive gem. When she and her entourage visit the jeweler to browse the wares, they run into a robber who prefers to be called The Robber (William Powell). He absconds with a wealth of valuables and is so smooth, no one seems to be all that upset about it and as for Teri, well she is smitten. But will Teri’s need for excitement be too much even for a bold, dashing criminal?
Entertainment Value: Although much of Jewel Robbery seems almost quaint by modern standards, viewed through the pre-code lens, this one is loaded with scandalous stuff that would never clear the production code just a few years later. The idea of a crook who is smart, smooth, and makes fools of the authorities is common these days, but had to raise some eyebrows at the time, especially given that The Robber is basically the hero of Jewel Robbery. A married woman’s quest for thrills and sexual satisfaction outside her marriage is also a core thread of this narrative, a desire for which she isn’t really judged or punished here. But then we also have a rather savage view on corruption, drug use shown as quite fun, and Kay Francis in the bathtub, seeing how much skin she can show without melting the audience. The story is solid, but the real drive here is the film’s humor and the cast goes all in to make sure it works to its full potential, especially William Powell.
Powell steals the show here to be sure, in a charismatic and likable role, even as a criminal with impure intentions. He has such a strong presence in this role, hitting the dialogue with perfect timing and delivery, which enhances every scene he is in and makes all of his interactions so much fun. Even in the midst of a heist, he manages to be cool and collected without feeling forced, that kind of effortless cool is not common and he really impresses in this one. Kay Francis also has a prominent role and while she isn’t given much depth here, she is able to elevate her material and her comic skills are on full showcase. I also love that she really goes for it with Teri’s big personality, which ensures her scenes with Powell’s debonair criminal are quite fun. The cast here also includes Helen Vinson, Alan Mowbray, and Hardie Albright. The movie runs just over an hour and packs in a lot of fun, so the pace is brisk and there’s no slow stretches to contend with. I found this to be a bold, boundary pushing pre-code sizzler, so Jewel Robbery earns a strong recommendation.