Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Scandal in Paris (1946)



Born in jail, Eugene Francois Vidocq (George Sanders) seemed destined for a criminal life. On his birthday a few decades later, he finds himself once again behind bars. There he makes friends with fellow career criminal Emile Vernet (Akim Tamiroff). The Vernet matriarch sends Eugene a special birthday cake with a file hidden inside. The two buds break out of jail and set their minds on anything they can steal. Not content with small loot, Eugene sets his sights on a bigger prize.

Eugene meets saloon dancer Loretta (Carole Landis), seducing her out of a ruby laced garter gifted to her by prefect of police Richet (Gene Lockhart). Then he meets the De Piermont family and practically moves in while he and Emile set out to Marquise De Piermont's (Alma Kruger) family jewels. Instead he uses his detective skills to solve his own crime while impressing police captain Houdon de Piermont (Alan Napier). He charms his way into Richet's job as prefect of police. Eugene and Emile fool everyone except the beautiful young Therese (Signe Hasso), daughter of Houdon. She fell in love with Eugene when she saw a painting of the two men as Saint George and the Dragon.  Meanwhile, Eugene and Emile expertly plot out a robbery of the Bank of Paris. Will this be the greatest crime caper of all time or will Therese throw everything off?

George Sanders and Akim Tamiroff in A Scandal in Paris (1946)
George Sanders and Akim Tamiroff in A Scandal in Paris (1946)


A Scandal in Paris (1946) was directed by Douglas Sirk, who went on to direct memorable 1950s melodramas including some of my favorites: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Imitation of Life (1959). This was an independent production by Arnold Pressburger and his son Fred Pressburger and distributed by United Artists. The story is very loosely based on the real life career criminal  of the 19th century Eugene Francois Vidocq. He's credited as the world's first private detective. The screenwriters changed many aspects of Vidocq's exploits and even added a cutesy and very unrealistic ending. His buddy Emile was either a work of fiction or an amalgamation of several real life friends of Vidocq. The man himself wrote a couple of memoirs but who knows if he could have been trusted to tell his own story. In fact the opening text of the film warns audiences of this.

This movie is kind of ridiculous and a reminder why I tend to shy from biopics from this era in film history. You couldn't get away with a film like this in contemporary cinema. However, I do appreciate the attention to detail in the wardrobe and sets. I was particularly enamored with the fantastical carousel that the de Pierremonts have in their backyard. It's a fine example of the over-the-top lifestyle of the wealthy elite of that era. I enjoyed the recurring theme of Saint George and the dragon which represents the two main characters, Vidocq and Emile, and how their narratives change throughout the story. I came to this picture because of George Sanders and Akim Tamiroff, two actors whom I greatly admire. Any time a film of theirs pops up on the TCM schedule, I usually schedule my DVR to record it. Having both actors in the same film was not an opportunity that I was going to pass up.

Signe Hasso, George Sanders and Carole Landis in A Scandal in Paris (1946)
Signe Hasso, George Sanders and Carole Landis in A Scandal in Paris (1946)

Both Sanders and Tamiroff deliver fine performances. Sanders is well-suited to the role of a wanna-be upper-class criminal who charms his way out of many situations. Tamiroff is heavily made up as Emile and he adeptly plays the knife-wielding and greedy criminal who sticks by his buddy but always has his eye on the prize. Child actress Jo Ann Marlowe, who many will recognize from Mildred Pierce (1945), plays Mimi de Pierremont, Therese's curious young sister. Carole Landis has a rather small but powerful role as the saloon singer who seduces men in power positions but meets her match with Sanders' Vidocq. I enjoyed Gene Lockhart's performance as the troubled police prefect. Signe Hasso does a fine job in her role as the angelic Therese who becomes wise to Vidocq's intentions. I doubt her character existed in real life. And if it did I feel bad for her as I'm sure Vidocq would have abandoned her for other exploits.

If you can forgive the sins of a 1940s period piece, A Scandal in Paris is a worthwhile venture into the work of several key players including Douglas Sirk, George Sanders and Akim Tamiroff.




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