Fri 17 Mar 2017
ENTER ARSENE LUPIN. Universal Pictures, 1944. Charles Korvin, Ella Raines, J. Carroll Naish, George Dolenz, Gale Sonddergard, Miles Mander. Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based on the character created by Maurice Leblanc. Directed by Ford Beebe.
Charles Korvin’s first outing as Arsene Lupin, and the third American film to feature the character, puts him in such good company with John Barrymore and Melvin Douglas who essayed the character before him.
In Enter Arsene Lupin, Korvin is aboard the Orient Express in the guise of Raoul D’Andressy to steal the Kanares Emerald, but when he sees the owner, Anastasia ‘Stacie’ Kanares (Ella Raines, and well he might have second thoughts as she exudes sex appeal here) he returns the jewel, much to the disgust of his servant Armand Dubose (George Dolenz: “Women, it’s always women.”).
Inspired by Stacie, Lupin changes his plans and heads to England, where Inspector Ganimard (J. Carroll Naish) soon follows as Lupin begins denuding the nations museums.
Ganimard: “Lupin, he is tall thin, short fat, slight stocky, fair and dark.”
British Police Sergeant: “Well, if you want me I’ll be in out over and under the nearest pub.”
But Ganimard has an inspiration regarding Lupin’s favorite wine and finds six dozen cases were sold at auction to one Raoul D’Andressy. In the meantime, Lupin, driving to Wainbridge Manor to see Stacie, is just in time to rescue her when her brakes give out at speed on a steep hill. She invites him to meet her British cousins, Bessie (Gale Sonddergard) and Major Charles Seagrave (Miles Mander), who inform him Stacie is suffering a mental breakdown after the loss of her grandfather Kanares and believes she is still in possession of the emerald that was stolen on the Orient Express.
Lupin is of course suspicious since he stole and returned the emerald himself, and the next day when Stacie invites him to go fishing and he finds a deadly viper in her picnic basket he is certain her cousin and her husband are out to gaslight her, murder her, and steal the emerald, leaving him only one solution, to steal the emerald first.
An act complicated when Ganimard shows up on his doorstep just after he has hung the real Rembrandt he stole in a frame that held a cheap print. Lupin is left playing a game of cat and mouse as well as snakes and ladders to outwit Ganimard (“No one outwits Ganimard but Ganimard himself.”), steal the emerald, and keep the cousins from murdering Stacie.
Korvin makes a properly suave and European Lupin, with his exchanges with his exasperated valet and partner in crime Dolenz full of quiet wit.
Lupin: “I was born with a conscience.”
Dubose: “A conscience, what is that?”
Lupin: “The ability to know right from wrong.”
Dubose: Whistles “Sounds like a terrible handicap to me, Msieu.”
Lupin: “Luckily I had the strength to overcome it.”
While it can’t compare with the original Arsene Lupin with Barrymore and his brother Lionel as Ganimard, it’s a charming B-programmer, running at around sixty-five minutes, and wittily scripted by Bertram Millhauser. Whether Universal ever intended it as a series or not, it’s a shame it wasn’t picked up. Korvin was ideal as Lupin, whether in ascot or top hat, cape, and tails, and the film has more than enough twists and turns for any two films of its length.
The romantic scenes with Raines have real snap to them, and if the cat and mouse play with Naish isn’t in the same class with the two Barrymores, it is still fun to watch between the Columboesque but capable sleuth and the suave gentleman thief, the twists coming right to the final shot.