There has been a spate of smash and grab robberies across France, the United Kingdom and Ireland, where jewellers have been the target, their wares lifted from shop windows and nobody has any leads. Well, that’s not quite true, as John Forrest (Jack Buchanan) and his wife Alice (Elsie Randolph) are on the case on behalf of the British authorities, a husband and wife team whose eccentric methods may baffle the casual onlooker, and even those with some knowledge of the case in hand, but almost always get results in spite of putting themselves in danger for some of the time. They decide to head for Dublin where the latest robbery occurred, though not before steam locomotive enthusiast John checks out the engine, climbing over it which throws the driver into consternation, but no matter what it looks like, Alice is there to keep him in line and soon they are on the trail of a certain jeweller who knows more about the thefts than he lets on – because he is the one handling the stolen gems.
Jack Buchanan and Elsie Randolph were not married in real life, but they did have a close working relationship which brought about a collection of films in which they starred, usually in the nineteen-thirties which saw them at the peak of their fame. Nowadays Buchanan is best recalled for performing alongside Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon over fifteen years after Smash and Grab was released, demonstrating his flair for song and dance, though he did no such thing in this particular movie. What he did do was practice ju-jitsu on his butler Rankin (Lawrence Grossmith) in a manner so energetic that you’d never know Buchanan suffered from terrible arthritis in his back, indeed it was back problems that led to his death in middle age, so for that reason he was impressive to watch, breezing through his films with his devil may care persona.
His public couldn’t get enough of it in his heyday, and this may not be one of his more celebrated films but it was as popular as more or less anything he released in its decade, once again playing a variation on what he customarily presented as entertainment. Nothing wrong with that, he was very good at it, and can still secure laughs from his straightfaced, “we know this is silly but isn’t it fun?” style of delivery, which was very effective in a comedy thriller such as this. Randolph matched him as his screen missus, yet the inspiration was all too obvious, Buchanan – who came up with the story – had evidently seen William Powell in the Thin Man movies (of which there were a couple by that stage) and thought he would try that himself, with the stylish Randolph as his ideal Myrna Loy. It remained true you’d be better off with the source, but that was no great slight.
They had their eye on the American market after all (Buchanan was no stranger to the Broadway stage, hence his hiring for The Band Wagon) and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, besides the two stars could carry off this kind of humour with some panache which made for just over an hour of amusement. Even when the central couple’s lives are in danger we are confident that John will manage to quip his way out of trouble, and if the filmmakers felt the need to throw in some Thin Man-esque drinking gags, the originals never thought to include a model train obsession or banana preoccupation, did they? Maybe the depiction of the Irish detective on the case made their lawmen out to be foolish, and the gangsters probably wouldn’t do relations between the U.K. and Italy any good, not to mention some of the accents could have been better, but this was never intended to be taken seriously, it was pure escapism with a cheeky, whimsical inclination even if there were characters being murdered to up the tension. It did what was needed to be done and was whisked off the screen with barely a care in the world.
[Network's DVD in their British Film collection has a gallery as an extra.]