Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2020 May 01 • Friday

The Great Jewel Robber (1950), claiming to be based on a true story, is a much above average crime movie with a very unpromising title.

David Brian plays Gerry, a professional thief who specializes in jewels and furs and uses several different last names, as well as several different women, a few of whom he marries or at least becomes engaged to.

We start with him in Toronto, where he's arrested and sent to prison. After a humiliating and sadistic episode with the warden Gerry escapes, makes it to New York, marries a nurse and starts a new crime wave in New Rochelle.

After picking up a new woman in Manhattan and hoping to start up a fur-stealing racket there, he barely escapes capture and hops a train to California, where he infiltrates the high society set of Beverly Hills.

More sex and more stealing and then, eventually, an impressive action sequence as Gerry tries to elude police officers who have surrounded the building he's in.

Since this movie is from 1950, you know he's not going to get away with it in the end, but it's impressively hardboiled and fast-paced, moving smoothly from crime to crime and keeping moralizing to a minimum.

Gerry isn't really sympathetic character but this isn't a movie about who people are as much as what people do. Brutality of one sort or another finds everybody in it, but the idea is to deliver excitement, not anguish.

William Lava's score does much to enhance the experience, as does the wonderfully shadowy photography by Sid Hickox.

Gerry wears a standard-issue black mask when he's on the job but Hickox has his face blocked by shadows a lot even when he's not working, suggesting his criminality is part of his true nature.

Another arresting image comes when Gerry is betrayed by two partners in crime who beat him into unconsciousness and steal the jewels that Gerry has just stolen, at considerable risk to himself.

One of the two is Gerry's latest seduction, who holds the stolen jewels so that they block Gerry's face, a clear signal that the human cost of crime is completely eclipsed by the material reward.

She also throws his engagement ring back at him before she leaves, a ring that he had stolen from his previous fiancée. It had belonged to her mother and meant the world to her, and she had given it to him in true love and good faith. Oh well!

At one point, police and reporters speak to the mayor of New Rochelle, NY, and the person playing the mayor is a startlingly different actor than anybody else in the movie, with a very odd way of speaking and holding himself.

It turns out that this person is not an actor at all but the actual mayor of New Rochelle in a cameo. Not sure what the ballyhoo value of this would have been, but there it is anyway.

If you're a fan of old black-and-white crime movies and film noir, then this is a lesser known title that you're likely to enjoy. I was very pleasantly surprised!