"In crime as in love," says Francois Eugene Vidocq, "there are only those who do and those who don't dare."
This is the amusing, clever story of Vidocq (George Sanders), who was born in a Paris prison in 1775 and spent the next 30 years as a cad, a thief and a relatively successful criminal. And then he became Paris' chief of police and spent the rest of his life catching criminals. It's based on a true story. His epiphany came, according to the movie, through the love of a virtuous woman who was prepared to join him in crime if that was the only way to show her love for him. This so affected him that he decides not to rob the Bank of Paris, confesses all to his prospective father in law (the Minister of Police), who forgives him and blesses the marriage to his daughter. Vidocq, after all, was an even better detective than he was a thief.
The story takes Vidocq through his early years, his partnership with a rough crook, Emil (Akim Tamiroff), his encounter with a mercenary and beautiful dancer (Carole Landis) whom he woos, steals from and leaves (and who later marries Vidocq's predecessor as police chief, which causes serious complications), his encounter with the aristocratic family from whom he and Emil plan to steal priceless jewels, his meeting the family's young daughter, Theresa de Pierremont (Signe Hasso), and his set-up to become police chief so that he can rob the Bank of Paris.
The film features one of George Sanders best performances as a charming cad. Akim Tamiroff starts out as an ignorant buffoon with a knife, but gradually turns the role into one of real threat and danger. The movie is laced with clever dialogue by Vidocq and the gradual resentment by Emil. When Emil suggests murdering the rich old marquise for her jewels and is surprised when Vidocq demurs, Vidocq explains, "It's a not a question of morality but of manners. A man who is capable of killing with a knife is liable to eat with one." When Emil is chortling over the family's panic when the theft of the jewels is discovered and says he can't bear it, it's so funny, Vidocq tells him, "My dear Emil, we always have enough strength to bear the misfortunes of others." And toward the end of the movie when the young daughter asks Vidocq if he loves her or still loves the dancer, he tells her, "In her eyes I see myself as I am. In your eyes, I see myself as I could be."
This is a good, long forgotten movie which is getting a second chance because of DVD. The DVD transfer isn't bad at all, although a little variable.