I’m so thrilled to be back with my first post of 2019! Today I’ve devoted myself to an actress whose work I wasn’t too familiar with until the last few months, but whose unforgettable onscreen persona dazzles audiences a hundred years after the day of her birth. I’m talking about none other than Carole Landis, the alluring bombshell and comedienne of the forties who celebrated what would have been her centenary on January 1st! Not only did Turner Classic Movies pull off a wonderful tribute hosted by Alicia Malone with a marathon of her amazing films like It Happened in Flatbush (1942), Turnabout (1940), and One Million B.C. (1940), Christine of Overture Books and Film is also currently hosting A Century of Carole Landis Blogathon, her first-ever blogathon dedicated to the vivacious pinup girl. Christine was kind enough to credit me for encouraging her to host the blogathon, which has honestly been one of the nicest things to happen to me since I first joined the classic movie blogging community. It just goes to show that incredible things can come from just a few kind words of encouragement!
As soon as I saw that Christine was hosting this blogathon dedicated to Carole Landis I instantly knew that I wanted to participate, but I had no idea where to begin as I’d never seen a single picture of hers. It didn’t take long for me to decide as I saw potential in A Scandal in Paris (1946), starring Carole alongside George Sanders, one of my favorite actors. The film is essentially a loose biography of real-life Frenchman Eugène François Vidocq, which follows his autobiography while also taking quite a few creative liberties. In the prologue, a nameless child (played later by George Sanders) is born as the youngest of twelve in a French prison, and after skipping over his childhood we see him wind up in the exact same place, assuming the life of a suave but petty thief with his trusty sidekick Emile Vernet (Akim Tamiroff). We first see them as adults breaking out of their cell with the help of a file that Emile’s aunt concealed inside of a birthday cake. Upon their escape, they encounter an artist (Fritz Leiber). He sees in their faces the fabled Saint George and the dragon he slays and decides to paint them as such on a mural at the side of a church. However, Sanders’ character is no saint and Tamiroff is no dragon, and they take advantage of the opportunity to steal the horse and costumes from their own portrait sitting and flee to Paris to visit Emile’s family, a band of immoral souls who each specialize in different forms of crime.
The family advises the pair that the best place to evade the law is in Napoleon’s army, and Emile’s cousin draws up forged documents in order for the two to enlist. Their years in the army are also skimmed over, but that can hardly be blamed as we next see Emile and his partner, now assuming the name of Lieutenant Rousseau, encounter a captivating French nightclub singer named Loretta (Carole Landis). Despite her career choice, it’s easy to see that Loretta is clever and beautiful enough to rub elbows with the French elite. As she takes a cab to an appointment with her esteemed beau, the singer also develops an interest in Rousseau. He, in turn, develops an interest in her garter adorned with rubies, which he swipes as they kiss before he disappears into the night. Loretta is mystified and enamored with the mysterious bandit even after realizing his crime, but she eventually settles down and marries Richet (Gene Lockhart), the bumbling and pathetic Chief of Police. Meanwhile, Rousseau befriends Marquise De Pierremont (Alma Kruger), an old and wealthy woman who mistakes him for the son of Baron Vidocq, a name which Sanders’ character borrows for the remainder of the film. Emile and Vidocq delightfully accept Marquise’s invitation to stay at her home with the intention of robbing her of her outstanding collection of jewels.
The thieves meet Marquise’s family, including her son-in-law and Minister of Police Houdon De Pierremont (Alan Napier) and his lovely daughter Therese (Signe Hasso). At first sight there’s a palpable chemistry between Therese and Vidocq, and he has no idea that Therese has fallen in love with the painting of Saint George that bears his likeness. Despite the connection that Vidocq has with Marquise’s granddaughter, he and his partner in crime pull off the jewel heist, stashing the trinkets away in their garden and expecting to retrieve them later. Their plans change, however, when Houdon fires Richet for his failure to locate the gems or arrest those responsible. Instead of fleeing with their loot as the pair often does, Vidocq seizes the opportunity to “solve” the case and return the jewelry, therefore making him the new Chief of Police who is now able to rob Paris at his lesiure. Instead of committing more petty crimes as he’s always done, he and Emile aim for a higher target: installing Emile’s family as employees of The Vault of Paris and stealing over fifty million francs worth of cash, gold, and jewels. The plan becomes more and more dangerous as Loretta re-enters his life, however, determined to win his heart in spite of her husband Richet, who’s devoted his life to finding the man responsible for stealing his wife’s affections. Will Vidocq do the right thing and leave his life of crime behind, or will his past come back to haunt him?
As complex as A Scandal in Paris (1946) appears to be, I actually found the picture easier to follow than I originally thought, which is saying a lot considering the fact that I tend to tune out when a movie has too much going on or too many characters to keep track of. The cast is impeccable and each actor submits some of their finest work here, especially George Sanders. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m completely biased as I’ve always adored the actor, but his role here rivals that of many of his more well-known features like Rebecca (1940) and All About Eve (1950), offering a thrilling study about the duality of mankind narrated to perfection in his trademark seductive voice. The ending of A Scandal in Paris (1946) is fantastic too. While I really admired Therese and the development of her romance with Vidocq, I was slightly distracted every time she appeared onscreen because I couldn’t get over how much she resembled Margaret Sullavan to the point where I could barely distinguish the two. The true scene-stealer in my eyes is none other than our star of the day Carole Landis, who shines as a scheming and multifaceted character. Due to my reviewing this film in honor of her I did hope that she would be cast in the leading female role, but her portrayal of Loretta is even better than that of Therese, and Landis truly made the most of every single scene that she was in. Her final scene is particularly poignant, and despite some of her poor decisions I rooted for her happiness just as much as I rooted for the leads. Her performance was so magnificent that her parting was truly heartwrenching. If you’re looking for a film that has Carole Landis written all over it, A Scandal in Paris (1946) likely isn’t going to be your best bet. However, if you’re looking for a beautifully directed, designed, and acted film where Carole stands out opposite an equally talented cast, definitely watch this picture as soon as you can.