Romance . . . and a con trick with a pair of rare black
vt The Case of the Black Pearl
US / 62 minutes / bw / Ralph M. Like Productions, Action Dir & Scr: George Seitz Pr: Ralph M. Like Cine: Jules Cronjager Cast: Jack Mulhall, Blanche Mahaffey (i.e., Blanche Mehaffey), Dorothy Revier, Huntley Gordon, Harry Semels, Crauford Kent, John Webb Dillon, Bill Burke (i.e., William P. Burt), George “Gabby” Hayes, Ellinor Vanderveer.
The Grand Duke Ludwig of Saxe-Thalberg (Mulhall) and his aide, Leopold Von Trump (Semels), have been staying for some while at the swanky Town House in NYC, but now the manager (uncredited) gives them an ultimatum: either they pay their bill or they’re out. Their problem is that the German embassy is withholding Ludwig’s family dosh for reasons that are unclear.
Just as they’re losing all hope, they’re contacted by another guest at the hotel, the magnate Stanley M. Gordon (Gordon), of Gordon Steel & Iron Works fame. He is eager to pay his respects to Ludwig because, he says, during the war his son Bob was captured by Ludwig’s men and Ludwig’s behavior was “mighty white.” Von Trump explains their little difficulty, and Gordon is only too happy to stump up $1,000 to settle their bill.
Von Trump (Harry Semels) reckons the Gordons are kosher.
The Gordons — Sally (Dorothy Revier) and her father Stanley (Huntley Gordon) — make a good impression on our aristocratic heroes.
Ludwig is really quite taken with Gordon’s daughter Sally (Revier), and—little realizing that Bob never existed and that Gordon is a notorious crook and Sally likewise, being the notorious Sarah Minx aka Subway Sally—happily acquiesces when Gordon offers him a job . . . not that he seems 100% certain what a job is:
Gordon: “What are you going to do while you’re waiting [for your funds to be cleared]?”
Gordon: “For money. For you and Von Trump.”
Ludwig: “I wish I knew.”
Gordon: “Why don’t you go to work?”
The job in question involves acting as Gordon’s agent in the purchase of a second black pearl to match the one that Gordon already possesses; the story is that Gordon wants the second pearl so he can have earrings made for a lover, but needs to employ an agent so as to be sure the press don’t catch on. The plan is that Ludwig take the pearl to posh jewelry store Wallingtons and tell them that the sky’s the limit if they can find its twin.
Moffit (Crauford Kent) is more than impressed by Count Ludwig (Jack Mulhall).
At Wallingtons, Ludwig encounters Angela White (Mehaffey) who, although he doesn’t know it, is the store detective. Her main job, however, is to be the person the boss, Mr. Moffit (Kent), pretends to fire summarily whenever a customer complains. In fact, she’s just been “fired” because of a complaint by the smug, simpering society dame Mrs. Stubbs (Vanderveer). But even Mrs. Stubbs is overwhelmed when the arrival of the Grand Duke of Saxe-Thalberg is announced.
After a muddle, Angela is once again “fired,” this time on account of Ludwig. Overcome with guilt, he insists that he treat her to lunch, and soon enough the pair start to become close. But Angela’s less sure about Ludwig’s friends the Gordons. Not only do her hackles instinctively rise in their presence but she’s pretty certain she recognizes Subway Sally from a warning notice circulated among jewelers to the effect that this infamous scam artist is back in town after a couple of years in London.
Ludwig (Jack Mulhall) consoles Angela (Blanche Mehaffey) over her latest “firing.”
Gordon’s henchman Len Scraggs (Burt) is set up as Lemuel Watson, Jewel Importer (although Moffit, dealing with him as Watson, inadvertently refers to him as Scraggs). Gordon explains the evil plan. He owns two black pearls, not just one, having bought them cheap some years ago. Scraggs will contact Moffit and demand far more than it’s actually worth for the second pearl. Moffit, assuming the Grand Duke’s good for whatever sum is demanded, will pay the outrageous price and, before the muddle starts to be sorted out, the gang will have hopped it . . .
Angela (Blanche Mehaffey) hears Ludwig’s confession that he hasn’t any money.
This comedy mystery is a very slight piece indeed, clearly made on something less than a shoestring, but it’s so goodhearted that it’s easy to like. Mehaffey is a very personable lead and Semels, as the bombastic Von Trump, is both amusing and, in an over-the-top way, convincing in the part; that said, his little Hitler mustache would have seemed a lot less hilarious not so many years later. Mulhall, by contrast, makes no effort whatsoever to appear Germanic beyond occasionally addressing one of the women as Fraulein. This delinquency on his part makes the opening of the movie extremely confusing: it’s so “obvious” to us that Ludwig and Von Trump are outrageous con artists because Ludwig quite plainly isn’t even a German.
Jack Mulhall, as Count Ludwig, relies on easy charm rather than any attempt to portray the character.
The screenplay has a few enjoyable lines. I quite liked this exchange:
Ludwig: “Oh, Von Trump, you speak without thinking.”
Von Trump: “Possibly, but for some time I have been thinking without speaking, maybe.”
But the funniest moment is probably when Ludwig catches sight of Angela coming out of Wallingtons mere minutes after she’s supposedly been fired. She’s just off for her lunch-break and, not noticing him, is whistling gaily as she goes. Her transition, on spotting him, from happiness to faked gloom is nicely done and a treat to behold.
One other oddment: the movie’s opening theme is really quite strongly reminiscent of the song “Do Re Mi” from Mary Poppins (1964)!
Only aristocrats need a special room for dinning in, I guess.