Secrets of the French Police (1932)
Produced by David O. Selznick this obscure crime story has “horror flick” elements which make it a rather strange little film. It runs less than an hour but includes some rather interesting details as its most well-known actor Frank Morgan playing a detective tries to solve the case. It’s set in Paris well after the Russian Revolution when the deposed aristocracy was trying to find the missing Anastasia and con artists were coming out of the woodwork with phony princesses. Overall it’s not a very good movie though it does feature performances from a couple of actors (Rochelle Hudson and John Warburton in only his second picture) who went on to have mildly successful careers two who were already fairly well established from their work in silent pictures (Morgan and Lucien Prival) and George Ratoff who ended up directing a couple of dozen films.
Petty thief Leon Renault (Warburton) is dating the beautiful Eugenie Dorian (Gwili Andre didn’t make many films and it’s obvious why … given her “abilities”) who attracts the attention of former Russian General Moloff (Ratoff) per her resemblance to Princess Anastasia missing since the Revolution. She disappears and detective François St. Cyr (Morgan) who’s been investigating several murders is put on the case. He utilizes a microscope to analyze some ashes found at the scene which leads him to a café where some funny cigarettes are sold. Pretending to be drunk he learns that Baron Lomzoi (Prival) just purchased some of that particular brand. With help from his staff St. Cyr also assembles a wall-sized “picture” of Miss Dorian to assist them in locating her. Her father is played by Christian Rub but Moloff takes care of him; Lomzoi is also later found dead. St. Cyr puts his agent K-31 (Hudson) undercover on the case and enlists the help of Renault who only steals from foreigners and not Frenchman.
Once under Moloff’s control Eugenie is hypnotized in order to fool the Grand Duke Maxim Romanoff (Arnold Korff) into thinking that she’s the missing princess Anastasia. The pacing and cinematography by Alfred Gilks (An American in Paris (1951)) will remind you of Universal’s horror films like Dracula (1931) making Ratoff appear much like Bela Lugosi. There’s even a little bit of Frankenstein (1931) thrown in. None of the violence is shown but K-31 is killed and then entombed in plaster to look like a statue by Moloff. Renault infiltrates the mansion and disrupts Moloff’s hypnosis. Of course St. Cyr eventually solves the case which involves a really bizarre car crash copied in later films using a mirror (this is quite a bit more elaborate and unbelievable).