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I Was an Adventuress (1940).

March 4, 2011

The Scoop:
Good turns by Erich von Stroheim and Peter Lorre highlight this fun, but very slight, con artist caper.

This remake of a 1938 French film features von Stroheim as André, the conniving, slightly menacing leader of a trio of jewel thieves that also includes the dim-witted kleptomaniac Polo (Lorre) and the former ballet dancer Tanya (Vera Zorina). Together they travel across Europe using a combination of flirtation, pickpocketing and con artistry to swindle wealthy aristocrats our of their fortunes. That is, until Tanya falls in love with one of their marks (Richard Greene) and tries to leave the business to get married and resume her dancing career.

Zorina was already an established ballet star, having had a successful career with the Ballet Russe and other troupes, and this film was designed as a star vehicle to boost her fledgling film career. In fact, the climax of the action is an extended sequence in which she dances “Swan Lake” on stage, featuring choreography by her husband, George Balanchine. As ballet on film goes, it’s a good performance, but it and all the other ballet bits seem tacked on at the expense of the main plot.

And that’s a shame, because the central caper had the potential to be really interesting. Von Stroheim is in his element as the gang’s ringleader, while Lorre adds a gentle charm to his usual slimy film demeanor. They steal the show, and if they had been the focus, the result would have been a stronger film. “I Was an Adventuress” is billed as a comedy, but the laughs are so gentle as to be virtually non-existent.

It’s all genial and charming, with some clever cons mixed in, but it’s lighter than air and floats away almost as soon as its quick 80-minute running time is done.

Best Bit:
The Von Kongen double-cross.

Side Note:
Besides choreographing the “Swan Lake” sequence, Balanchine also dances in it with his wife Zorina. In fact it has something of a parallel to last year’s “Black Swan” in which that film’s choreographer Benjamin Millipied also danced “Swan Lake” on screen with his future wife, Natalie Portman.

Companion Viewing:
“The Lady Eve” (1941) and “The Brothers Bloom” (2008).


Take a Look:
Von Stroheim’s foot fetish, and the following scenes:

The comedy team of Lorre and von Stroheim:

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