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  I Was an Adventuress Ballet Nuisance
Year: 1940
Director: Gregory Ratoff
Stars: Vera Zorina, Richard Greene, Erich von Stroheim, Peter Lorre, Sig Ruman, Fritz Feld, Cora Witherspoon, Anthony Kemble-Cooper, Paul Porcasi, Inez Palange, Egon Brecher, Roger Imhof, Rolfe Sedan, Eddie Conrad
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A society do is held today where a late noblewoman's various treasures are exhibited for the rest of the upper classes who wish to attend, champagne is laid on too. Examining one painting, Countess Tanya Vronsky (Vera Zorina, billed solely by her surname), notices a little man staring at her chest and exclaiming how impressed he is by the shape and symmetry of what he sees. She is taken aback until he explains he is admiring her necklace, the pendant of which is bejewelled with precious stones, but she counters with the claim that it is actually a facsimile and worth very little, an opinion the antiques expert (Peter Lorre) disagrees with. Another man takes an interest and persuades her to part with it for a fair sum, in spite of her protests. He should have listened...

I Was an Adventuress began life as a French movie made two years before this version, and many down the decades have seen this while the original languishes in obscurity. Such is the benefit of a starrier cast and higher profile, with director Gregory Ratoff demonstrating an Ernst Lubitsch touch to proceedings, or so you imagine he hoped. If this didn't reach those heights of ambition, it was a light, pleasing diversion unlikely to linger long in the memory but perfectly engaging while it was running, and possibly the best showcase, acting-wise, for its leading lady. Vera Zorina was a German ballet dancer (though her parents were Norwegian and she identified with that culture) imported to Hollywood in the nineteen-thirties.

She had been intended, as many imported European actresses were in this era, to be another Greta Garbo, with the exotic accent and whatnot, but with the bonus of her dancing ability, though in effect that simply made her a more classical Sonja Henie, as you can see by the grand finale setpiece here which featured her character's return to her ballet roots in a would-be showstopping Swan Lake routine, much reduced to fill five minutes and notably kitsch in effect (how would they have staged Tanya's disappearance on the stage like that, then?). Still, at least we got to see Vera strut her stuff and prove her terpsichorean mettle, as otherwise she was inhabiting a soufflé of romantic misunderstandings and wistful observations in amusing form from both the rogues and the more heroic.

We are introduced to Tanya as she conducts her necklace confidence trick, but she doesn't do it alone for she has assistance, both from Lorre's Polo and her ostensible boss, the ringleader Andre Desormeaux, played by Erich von Stroheim. His star had fallen quite some way since his unintentional efforts to bankrupt the studios offering him money to make his silent cinema epics, something he lamented for the rest of his life though he was his own worst enemy in that regard. Though he was "reduced" to acting in others' movies, he was able to carve a niche as a Teutonic villain, "The Man You Love to Hate" according to his publicity, and it was in that capacity we saw him in this, yet even with that apparently constricting role he was able to find nuance.

Not a tremendous amount, granted, as he was still the bad guy with Lorre's accustomed and distinctive villainy toned down to something approaching a curious sweetness, for him at any rate for Polo is more of a victim of his impulses. Yeah, you say, he was like that in M as well and look how that turned out, but regard him through the prism of the European take on Hollywood confections which contained a certain worldly wise humour and melancholy much on view in the American movies of the day thanks to the immigration of artistic talent to the United States, and you would forgive Polo his misdemeanours. Especially when the targets were so rich we're meant to accept they'd hardly miss the odd item of stolen wealth (mull that one over), that is until Tanya sets her sights on Paul Vernay, played by the future Robin Hood of television fame Richard Greene, who is having none of this so naturally he and Tanya fall madly in love. Add in a car chase and certain tension as to whether Andre and Polo can catch up with the now-absconding heroine, and a harmless trifle ensued.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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