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Jewel Robbery June: Girl in 313 (1940)

A common trope in classic movies is the jewel robbery scenario, often depicted from the gangster's point of view. We had a lot of titles to choose from for this month's blog where we will focus on some of the less common films.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: This is the kind of movie that I relate with Cinevent and the Picture Show. This is a cat and mouse game in which a jewel thief turns out to be a detective, a detective turns out to be a jewel thief, and a model and jeweler turn out to be the head of a mob and his accomplice. All of this, plus Lionel Atwill in less than an hour and you know you’re in for a good time. It’s a twist on a common theme that never lets off the gas pedal.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: Maybe I've watched too many jewel heist movies, but the idea of anyone wearing expensive real jewelry out anywhere seems insane, especially when there are ways to inexpensively fake them. The invitation to view the fashion show displaying the new jewelry line at the beginning of the film was basically an invite to rob the manufacturer.

RB: Well, if everyone acted responsibly and didn’t do dumb things, we sure wouldn’t have as many movies!

SG: And I wouldn't have my job at the courthouse. This is a zippy movie with a lot of story tightly packed into an hour. In spite of the many twists, we never get lost. It was originally titled Million Dollar Diamond but I like the less obvious title.

RB: This was actually the third in a loosely related series of films that Fox dabbled with based around a women’s hotel. The first, Elsa Maxwell’s Hotel For Women, was the film debut of Linda Darnell. But like a lot of series at Fox, they lost interest and there were only three entries (the latter two, including this one were both directed by Cortez).

SG: Florence Rice, borrowed from MGM, is an appealing but forgettable leading lady. In the scenes of her date with Kent Taylor, costume designer Herschel McCoy made her look like Snow White with her broad shoulder puffs and curled-under hair. She came off of an eight-month hiatus to make this film, dealing with her marriage to actor Robert Wilcox, their separation two months later, and subsequent divorce.

RB: I’m not so terribly sure that I’d say that she was forgettable. In fact, her appearance in this film has prompted me to want to check out more of her work. She’s from Cleveland, you know, which being an Ohio girl makes her worth seeking out. I really liked her in this.

SG: Mary Treen is a wonderful character actress. As Jenny, the maid in the women-only hotel, she drives the action and peppers in ample amounts of comedy. In many ways this film feels like a grown-up version of Nancy Drew. A group of gossipy and close-knit women work together to solve a mystery using questionable and obviously amateur techniques. I also liked that the staff immediately came to Rice's aid when she told them she was fleeing her abusive husband.

We saw Elyse Knox at the Picture Show in Forgotten Women, and she makes an impression here as the fiancée of a jewelry designer's son. Knox is best known today for her famous children, Tom and Mark Harmon.

RB: Today, Knox is possibly the least famous person in her family. While today she is known (at least a little bit) for her roles in Universal monster films like The Mummy’s Tomb and Night Monster, in addition to the famous sons that you mention, she was also the mother-in-law of Ricky Nelson!

SG: Jack Carson has a small role, and his personality is already fully formed and on display.

RB: Jacqueline Wells also pops up here, primarily known to Picture Show devotees for her roles in The Black Cat and The Bohemian Girl, but she would soon change her name to Julie Bishop and continue with her lengthy career. She’s attractive and stands out.

SG: Former leading man Ricardo Cortez directed this film, his last work as a director. The studio was happy with his work, but he opted not to extend his contract. It was a difficult time in his life; he was also going through a divorce.

According to columnist Jimmy Fidler, Kent Taylor had difficulty with one of the cars on set and accidentally backed into an arc light which caused a ladder holding an electrician to fall, which caused the script girl's stool to topple and she grabbed onto another arc light for balance which also fell over. Cortez, in exasperation yelled, "Who the devil is directing this scene, Rube Goldberg?"

RB: Cortez had pretty much the distinction of being the only male lead to ever be billed above Garbo, which is a pretty positive thing and was also the first actor to portray Sam Spade on the screen. By the late 1930’s, he was under contract to 20th Century Fox where he was mainly bouncing around in B’s, including a few Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films. He first stepped behind the camera in 1938, where he capably directed films through 1940 before stepping in front of the camera again permanently. He retired in 1948, going on to be a successful real estate broker, coming out of retirement one more time in 1958 for a role in MGM’s The Last Hurrah.

SG: An appropriate title. Motion Picture Daily didn't have much to say about the film except that it was similar in location, cast and director as Free, Blonde and 21 released the same year. That film also features actresses we saw at the Picture Show: Lynn Bari and Joan Davis. Walter Seldon of the Fox Uptown Theatre in Hollywood said Girl in 313 got a negative response there.

The Film Daily wrote, "What makes Girl in 313 solid pop entertainment is a dual factor, the smooth and skillful manner in which the story is handled, and the contributions made by the girl who had the title role... Edwar Cronjager's photography is tip-top."

RB: Variety and The New York Times were more or less positive in their reviews but had reservations about the conclusion of the film. Variety wrote “This is a slick crook thriller that should make okay program support on a double setup. An unsatisfactory end is the film’s major flaw but even this fails to eclipse the performances by Florence Rice, Kent Taylor and Lionel Atwill…Vehicle gives Miss Rice a splendid opportunity to shine, and she seldom overlooks a bet."

The New York Times was a tiny bit less complimentary. “Perhaps in Girl in 313 the bigwigs at Twentieth Century-Fox are trying to confound the critics who all along have argued for endings that conform with the logic of events. And yet, at the danger of being compromised, we object to the finale tacked onto a modestly diverting piece of jewels and top-hatted thieves. Light and swiftly paced, the plot may point to the ending but the plot itself is too improbable and slight to ask for a probable solution”.

SG: M. R. Harrington of the Avalon Theatre in Clatskanie, Oregon said Girl in 313, "did its duty holding up the other half of a double bill." E. B. Wacaster of Ozark, Arkansas called it, "Just a filler when you're not particular," but I was charmed and thoroughly entertained by this skillfully crafted movie. Three and a half stars.

RB: I agree that this is a better film than it was considered to be at the time. I suspect that a swift moving B was taken for granted in ways that we don’t in 2024. Three and a half stars and a film I’d love to see more like.

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Correction: Knox was married to Tom Harmon. Mark (and Kelly) were their offspring.

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