Tag Archives: Con Artists

Yolanda and the Thief (1945)

loR45C3The best description I can think of for Yolanda and the Thief is bucolic surrealism. A musical fantasy that was the brainchild of director Vincente Minnelli, it flopped on its release and ruined Lucille Bremer’s career before it was even properly underway. Not even Fred Astaire liked it and retired soon afterwards (though he came back again). Most people consider it a mess with a few who feel it is a hidden gem ahead of its time. I’m somewhere in between. It’s a mess, but it has an odd kind of charm.

In the South American-flavored fictional country of Patria, Yolanda Aquaviva (Lucille Bremer) is the heir to the Aquaviva fortune, a family business so omnipresent that it seems to have a monopoly on the entire national economy. I’m surprised there aren’t any revolutions in Patria. But Yolanda is an innocent child, raised in a convent, who must take up the family business on her eighteenth birthday, much to her dismay and trepidation.

Meanwhile, con artist Johnny Parkson Riggs (Fred Astaire) and his partner in crime, swindler Victor Budlow Trout (Frank Morgan), have come to Patria because they can’t be extradited there. When they hear of Yolanda’s incredible wealth, Johnny determines to steal her money away. He sneaks into her garden and when he hears her praying to her guardian angel for help in managing her estate, has an idea. He’ll pretend to be her guardian angel, come to relieve her of her financial troubles.

Yolanda instantly falls for his ruse (though I thought his idea of how angels should act was original, to say the least – a bit condescending and a bit too smooth an operator; angels shouldn’t be smarmy). He tells her that he will take care of everything if she’ll sign certain papers and gives him power of attorney. But while he and Trout are engaged in this bit of larceny, a mysterious man (Leon Ames) seems to be hanging around and Johnny can’t quite figure out his angle. Adding to his troubles is the fact that he’s fallen in love with Yolanda, which she completely reciprocates, though she feels ashamed, since one is not supposed to fall in love with an angel.

Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in a nightmare sequence

Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in a nightmare sequence

The Techniclor in this film is bonkers! When people say someone is a “flaming redhead” they are describing Lucille Bremer in Yolanda and the Thief. Bremer looks gorgeous, but she’s not very convincing as an innocent fresh from the convent. And she doesn’t dress like an innocent fresh from the convent, either. She looks like she could play a terrific New York socialite, though.

What’s puzzling about this film is that it’s such an odd blend of happy peasants and imaginative combinations of color and sets. There are contented, simple, singing people who cheer as Yolanda arrives at her home as if she were a princess and greet her with flowers. Her family practically has a monopoly on the nation and they throw flowers? I would have thought at least on person would have thrown a brick or two.

Contrasted with this pastoral bucolicism (there is a deer in her garden) is the riotous color palette, an unique nightmare sequence where Johnny works out his conflicting greed and attraction to her (with laundry ladies, sheets, gold, a snooty British racing crowd, treasure in a chest and Yolanda looking like a Greek stature offering him her money and entangling him in her dress).

And I can’t figure out Patria’s religion. It initially looks Catholic, but we only see her praying to her guardian angel. And later we see people paying reverence to a stature of Michael as it is led into a church during a carnival. Do these people worship angels? Just a fanciful question.

Fancy and whimsy personify this movie. What it lacks is a slight edge, something to give it a bit of tension. It also lacks sufficient dancing, something generally essential to the success of a Fred Astaire film. Which I thought was too bad, because Lucille Bremer is actually one of his more skilled and accomplished dance partners. But apart from the nightmare sequence and a brief dance while Johnny plays the harp, there is only one, admittedly fantastic, dance at the end called “Coffee Time.”

"Coffee Time"

“Coffee Time”

The cast is all good playing eccentric characters. Frank Morgan is a bit more subdued than usual. My favorite line of his is when he and Johnny are stopped by the police and deny their identity. When the police say they recognize them, he claims that “we don’t look like this.” Mildred Natwick plays Yolanda’s batty aunt. Since she was in charge of Yolanda’s fortune while she was in school, it’s a wonder the Aquaviva monopoly is doing as well as it is, but perhaps she hides her business acumen under eccentricity as part of a disarming persona? Leon Ames plays, for once, not a father of anyone. He is a mysterious, slightly mischievous stranger who seems to be looking out for Yolanda (most people will guess his real identity from the moment they first see him).

It’s not as bad as its reputation, though it will appeal to very specific tastes: devoted fans of Fred Astaire, musicals, visually imaginative Technicolor and fantasy. It’s somewhat in the genre of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and The Bishop’s Wife, where celestial beings interact with humans, but more whimsical and less realistic. It just doesn’t quite gel.

This trailer does not do the color justice.

A truly fantastic dance: “Coffee Time”


Posted by on December 30, 2015 in Movies


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The Young in Heart (1938)

220px-Poster_-_Young_in_Heart,_The_01The Young in Heart is a delightful, though not well known, comedy about a family of sophisticated, charming con artists who are trying to con a wealthy, elderly lady by pretending to be far better people than they really are. The trouble is that with all the effort to appear good, they begin to find themselves becoming just who they pretend to be and it’s very embarrassing to each member of the family; they don’t want the others to know they are becoming soft-hearted.

It seems like such a shame that this film is not better known today. Part of the reason could be that the cast does not contain actors we are as familiar with now. The movie is about the Carleton family, who are attempting to con their way into a wealthy position: Colonel Anthony Carleton (Roland Young), who is called Sahib by his family, Mrs. Carleton (Billie Burke), who everyone calls Marmy, and their two children George-Anne (Janet Gaynor’), the youngest and the real brains of the family, and Richard Carleton (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr,), suave, but who has never worked a day in his life.

Of course, the Sahib is not really a sahib from India or a colonel or a Bengal Lancer, though he is always saying that he is. He just played the role in a play, many years ago, with his wife.

While arranging for Richard to marry an heiress so they can all sponge off of her, the Sahib cheats at cards and they are unmasked and told to leave the Riviera. They are destitute in a train station, where Sahib and Marmy fondly reminisce about the old days while their two children despondently contemplate the wreck of their plans: Richard to marry the heiress and George-Anne to marry a Scotsman without any money (since she was going to sponge of Richard’s wife, she didn’t need a rich husband).

Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Minnie Dupree, Billie Burke

Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Minnie Dupree, Billie Burke

The Sahib and Marmy are a very affectionate couple and seem to be crooks out of sheer eccentricity. Their children, however, are quite serious about their crookedness; they mean to have money. Fortunately, they encounter Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree), a lonely, rich and very sweet old lady who is only too delighted to meet such an agreeable family and is so touched by their kind attention that she invites them to stay with her. Then George-Anne conceives a plan: they’re going to be as good as Miss Fortune thinks they are so that she’ll make them her heirs.

George-Anne even talks her father and Richard into pretending to look for jobs, although they really just go out and tour the city. But then Duncan Macrea (Richard Carlson), her former fiancé, comes to see George-Anne. He’s extremely annoyed about her whole family con artistry, but says he finds he can’t live without her. She tells him that he will have to and he, rather mischievously, knowing that her father is supposedly looking for work, gets Sahib a job as a salesman for the Flying Wombat, which is a car that looks like the kind of thing Batman should have driven.  George-Anne is obliged to make Sahib take the job so that Miss Fortune won’t know he wasn’t serious about his job hunting. He does so with much trepidation and discovers that he has a real knack for the business.

Janet Gaynor with puppy for Miss Fortune

Janet Gaynor with puppy for Miss Fortune

Richard also ends up with a job, sorting mail at an engineering company. His boss, Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard) is not impressed by his smooth lines, but is intrigued that he has never had a job before and is curious how he will turn out. She also lets him take her out to dinner after he gets his first paycheck and soon he thinks he’d rather like to study engineering.

There are two themes in the film: faith and love. Miss Fortune says “one must have faith in the people you love,” even though her lawyer warns her about the Carletons. Duncan, in his own way, has faith in George-Anne. He is always showing up on some errand or other and they always argue and he is always leaving “once and for all.” He drives her nuts by insisting that though her family are all crooks, she’s a good girl, while she keeps telling him to stop making her out to be better than she is and that she’s just as crooked as her family. Ironically, she’s right, but Duncan keeps on insisting and is eventually proved right. Even Leslie Saunders demonstrates faith in Richard when she gives him the job.

Of course, the reason people live up to the faith is because they love the person with the faith. The difficulty is just to get over their bad habits and crooked ways. At one point Richard asks if George-Anne is in love with Duncan and she replies, “How could I be in love with him? He hasn’t any money!” They are all touched by Miss Fortune’s utter faith and love for them, but won’t admit it to each other. When Richard buys her a dog, he says it’s part of the act. When George-Anne catches her father with a moist eye, he denies it has anything to do with being moved by Miss Fortune’s kindness.

It’s all very sweet and charming and the humor is rather droll. It is a comedy of crooks becoming good, quite accidentally, because of the people around them and their own efforts of deception.

The movie is on DVD and can also be seen on youtube.

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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


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