Friday, July 28, 2017

#2,395. Secrets of the French Police (1932)

Directed By: A. Edward Sutherland

Starring: Gwili Andre, Gregory Ratoff, Frank Morgan

Tagline: "This marble image that was once a living form"

Trivia: This film re-used some of the sets from RKO's The Most Dangerous Game

Here’s a hidden gem for you: 1932’s Secrets of the French Police, a murder mystery peppered with a dash of political intrigue that is also, at times, quite brutal.

Inspector François St. Cyr (Frank Morgan) of the Sûreté has been assigned to track down the killer of a fellow officer named Danton. The case takes an unexpected turn, however, when a former associate of Danton’s, Anton Dorian (Christian Rub), is also murdered, and Dorian’s adopted daughter Eugenie (Gwili Andre), a twentysomething flower girl, is nowhere to be found. Eugenie’s boyfriend, petty thief Leon Renault (John Warburton), is enlisted to help St. Cyr locate the young woman, who may very well be able to identify her father’s killer.

Meanwhile, General Han Moloff (Gregory Ratoff), a Russian émigré currently residing in Paris, is claiming that he’s found the Princess Anastasia, daughter of the late Czar Nicholas (who was shot dead during the Bolshevik Revolution). As Moloff tries to convince the world that his new protégé is, in fact, the rightful heir to the Russian Monarchy, St. Cyr and Renault are intrigued by reports that the long lost Princess bears a striking resemblance to Eugenie, their missing flower girl!

Frank Morgan, best known to audiences as the title character in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, is quite good as the mostly-serious Inspector (he lets his comedic side shine through, albeit briefly, when posing as a drunk buying cigarettes, but other than that his St. Cyr is all business), and John Warburton makes for a likable crook (his Renault is a patriotic thief: he steals only from foreigners, never his fellow Frenchmen). The most memorable personality in Secrets of the French Police, however, is undoubtedly Moloff, the sinister Russian General whose methods are… shall we say… a bit extreme (at one point he even encases a former accomplice in plaster, then places her among the statues that adorn his Paris residence).

While most of the violence in Secrets of the French Police occurs off-screen, the bodies of the murder victims discovered by the police are often described in graphic detail (According to St. Cyr, Anton Dorian’s death was caused by a severed windpipe, while another corpse found floating in the river couldn’t be identified because its face had been smashed in). The most shocking scene, however, comes late in the film, and involves a car crash that kills a driver and two passengers (a scene staged incredibly well by director A. Edward Sutherland).

A smartly-written pre-code motion picture that moves along at a brisk pace, Secrets of the French Police might be a movie you’ve never heard of, but it’s also one you won’t want to miss.

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