This week’s mystery movie was the 1934 Warner Bros. film “I Am a Thief,” with Mary Astor, Ricardo Cortez, Dudley Digges, Robert Barrat, Irving Pichel, Hobart Cavanaugh, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Arthur Aylesworth, Florence Fair, Frank Reicher, John Wray and Oscar Apfel.
Screenplay by Ralph Block and Doris Malloy. Dialogue direction by Frank McDonald. Edited by Terry Morse, art direction by Jack Okey, photography by Sid Hickox, gowns by Orry-Kelly. Vitaphone Orchestra conducted by Leo F. Forbstein. Directed by Robert Florey.
“I Am a Thief” has never been commercially released. It aired seven times on TCM in the last 20 years, most recently in 2014 and 2019.
“I Am a Thief” was a request by a member of the Brain Trust. “I Am a Thief” is a film of intrigue involving a necklace called the Karenina diamonds, set mostly on a train, and moves so quickly that the viewer doesn’t have time to start raising annoying questions about the plot.
Jack Okey’s art direction and Sid Hickox’s photography give a distinctly European flavor to this film. The cast are all suave Europeans except for the brash, obnoxious, nouveau-riche American capitalist from Omaha (Irishman Dudley Digges), who pursues the diamonds as if they were a fortune in pork bellies.
I don’t usually pay attention to women’s costumes, but Orry-Kelly knocked out some amazing pajamas for Mary Astor:
I follow a number of vintage clothing fans on social media and at the moment several of them are devoting their feeds to pajama designs.
Motion Picture Herald (Sept. 29, 1934) gave an advance look:
The combination of title, tone and story content and cast names indicates the potential showmanship value of this production. Original story and screenplay are by Doris Malloy, who wrote “Gambling Lady,” and Ralph Block, who collaborated with her on that picture, “Dark Hazard” and also did “Massacre.” Direction is by Robert Florey, who also made “Bedside,” “Smarty” and “Registered Nurse.”
Just fair. It is a murder mystery crook melodrama, with a story that occasionally becomes too implausible for intelligent audiences. It should, however, please followers of this type of melodrama. Many people are involved in the theft of a famous necklace and one does not know whether they are crooks or detectives; for this reason one is held in suspense.
Just mediocre. One of those you-guess-’em mystery yarns in which most of the action takes place on a train. It will do fair in action houses, but should be avoided in better class theaters.
And let’s see who at the New York Times hated it….
Why it’s F.S.N. who I believe was Frank S. Nugent. He said (Jan. 1, 1935):
Ever since the days of “The Great Train Robbery,” released in 1903, Hollywood has shown a fondness — one is tempted almost to say a suspicious fondness — for the melodrama that can be mounted on railroad tracks. A shot of clicking wheels, or of a train passing through a tunnel, conveys a sense of action, even when the story does not. That, however, is not entirely true of “I am a Thief,” the current item at the Mayfair, which is of the genre of “Silk Express, “Orient Express,” “Shanghai Express” and a few other express stories. There is more than a suspicion that its present name was selected only after the discovery that the stock of “express” titles had run out.
If it does little else, the Mayfair film confirms an idea that this corner stumbled upon many moons ago. The notion is that the moviemakers are convinced that the trains of Central Europe carry a few bonafide passengers, but derive their chief revenue from the transport of international jewel thieves, their potential victims and secret police agents; that sinister men and women are always prowling through compartments and leering into the camera without any one every noticing and that the conductors never bother about tickets, but just poke about in the corridors, looking for murdered passengers.
For Monday, we have two mystery people. And a mysterious package that may be important.
Update: These players remain unidentified, alas.
For Tuesday, we have this mystery gentleman.
Update: This is Francis Sayles.
We also have this sinister mystery chap.
Update: This is Frank Reicher.
And finally, we have this mystery fellow.
Update: This is Leo White.
For “Hm Wednesday,” our mystery waiter and the mystery chef are astounded when someone cries “They’re gone!” But what is/are gone?
Update: This is Leo White with an as yet unidentified chef.
We also have this mysterious gent who does not at all approve of such goings-on. He especially does not approve of our next mystery guest.
Update: This is Oscar Apfel.
This mystery gent wants to buy it/them. But he is out of luck. Our mysterious leading man (coming Friday) is not willing to sell it/them.
Update: This is Dudley Digges as the annoying American. Naturally, he was born in Ireland.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Mike Hawks (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery guests Nos. 2 and 3), Sheila (Tuesday’s mystery guest No. 2) and Howard Mandelbaum (Tuesday’s mystery guest No. 2).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have this mysterious astonished gent.
Update: This is Hobart Cavanaugh
We also have this mysterious guest. And since he is armed with a Luger, he is clearly a mystery villain. His out-of-focus mystery companion is equally disreputable.
Update: This is Robert Barrat with Louis Natheaux out of focus in the back.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Dan Nather (Wednesday’s mysterious wealthy American), Mike Hawks (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery guests), Sheila (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery guests Nos. 2 and 3) Patrick (Wednesday’s mystery auctioneer) and David Inman (Wednesday’s mysterious annoying American).
For Friday, we have our mysterious leading man.
Update: This is Ricardo Cortez.
And here’s our leading lady. The gloved hand adds just a bit of mystery, don’t you think?
Update: And Mary Astor does not approve of the gloved gentleman.
And here’s a better shot of her robe, by Orry-Kelly.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Thursday’s mystery guests), Megan and Thom (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery gent No. 2 and mystery waiter, and Thursday’s mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), David Inman (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guests) and Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery guests).