In 1940's I Was An Adventuress, a worldly, beautiful woman and her cohorts canvas Europe stealing jewels and riches from unsuspecting, wealthy saps - an operation put in jeopardy after the lady falls in love with one of her targets. Wait a minute - I already saw I Was An Adventuress, and it was called The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. At any rate, this familiar if zippy little bauble made for one of the more intriguing additions to Fox's Cinema Archives series of made-to-order DVDs, highlighting vintage films from their library.
I Was An Adventuress is a fun, albeit odd, movie. Upon first seeing it on the American Movie Classics (pre-AMC) cable channel at least twenty years ago, I remember contributing an enthusiastic mini-review to the HyperCard movie database stored on my boxy beige Mac computer. The second time around? Still enjoyable - thanks mainly to the playfulness of co-stars Erich von Stroheim and Peter Lorre - although its derivativeness seems a lot more apparent to me this time around. This faux-Lubitsch tale of sophisticated jewel thieves was mostly conceived as a vehicle for the alluring but curiously flat dancer-actress Vera Zorina (simply billed here as "Zorina"), another one of those borderline talents that producer Samuel Goldwyn valiantly tried to make a star. Zorina's fake Russian countess Tanya Vronsky has a comfy job helping master con artist Andre Desormeaux (von Stroheim) dupe nobles and millionaires alike out of money, jewels and priceless artifacts. Along with their dotty accomplice Polo (Lorre), they travel from place to place, assuming different identities with each destination. When Andre assigns Tanya with seducing the wealthy Brit Paul Vernay (Richard Greene), she ends up falling in love and needing to leave the operation to marry the handsome gent. Eventually, Paul and Tanya settle in Paris with Mrs. Vernay accomplishing her dream of becoming a prima ballerina. She can't fully escape her past, however - especially when Andre and Polo unexpectedly arrive needing her assistance in pulling off one final, grand heist. Before you can say "Hedy Lamarr did this sorta thing much better," Tanya struggles with telling her husband about her shady past, while honoring her old comrades in their time of need. Then she plays the Black Swan in a production of Swan Lake; The End.
For a project that engaged the talents of von Stroheim (who also had a hand in the screenplay), novelist John O'Hara (BUtterfield 8) and esteemed choreographer George Balanchine (who staged the climactic ballet), I Was An Adventuress was bound to be - at the very least - interesting. Whatever excitement generated by the plush settings (truly, this is one fantastic looking movie) gets dampened by the familiar story and Vera Zorina's limitations as an actress (on the other hand, she dances gracefully). Peter Lorre fans would be well-advised to check this out; his sophisticated repartee with von Stroheim (also fine) is kind of a dry run for the delightful turns he'd do with Sidney Greenstreet in the following decade. The director, Gregory Ratoff, must have been well-acquainted with the kind of sparkling romantic comedies Fox was aping. While he does a good job approximating the feel of those films, there's a distinct feel of tiredness hanging over the movie. It serves up some fun quasi-sophistication when you get down to it, but why settle for cubic zirconia when there are plenty of real diamonds around?
One of the things that impressed me about I Was An Adventuress when seeing it so long ago was the pristine quality of the picture itself. Happily, the Fox Cinema Archives edition appears to have been struck from the same, nearly unblemished copy broadcast on American Movie Classics in the '90s. The black and white film does have some shakiness at times, while the levels of specks and dirt are kept to a minimum. By the lowered standards of these Fox m.o.d.'s, it looks sensational.
The film's mono soundtrack is a pleasant affair with limited dynamics, perhaps a little cleaner sounding than what would normally be heard on a film of this vintage. No subtitles.
None. As with other Fox Cinema Archives discs, the disc sports a simple menu and chapter stops every ten minutes in the film.
With its sparkling 1940 production I Was An Adventuress, 20th Century Fox attempted to make a star out of stone-faced ballet dancer Zorina, with the able support of Peter Lorre and Erich von Stroheim. While this sophisticated tale of a jewel thief attempting to redeem herself ends being too derivative to be a real keeper, the Fox Cinema Archives DVD sports a fantastic looking picture. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.