Anne Brooks (Kay Francis) is unintentionally polyandrous. She’s happily married to the older, very rich Schuyler Brooks (Henry Kolker) and thinks that he’s her only husband.
But her old dancing partner and supposed ex-husband, Maurice (Monroe Owsley), blackmails her by revealing that he never filed for the dissolution of their marriage.
Maurice wants Anne to shell out big bucks to keep him quiet, in order not to ruin her marriage with Schuyler.
Unsure of how to handle Maurice, Anne confides in Schuyler’s sister Portia (Helen Ware) and the two devise a scheme to trick Maurice into leaving the country – and staying away for a very long time.
Anne “suddenly” travels alone to Cuba, so Maurice will follow. Portia will then use her wealth and influence to stop Maurice from returning from Cuba. It seems fool-proof, but things get complicated when Schuyler’s own suspicions of the impromptu vacation lead him to hire a detective, Neil Davis (George Brent), to follow Anne in Cuba and prove whether or not she is faithful.
Such drama can often be found when you spy on the upper class through The Keyhole. Michael Curtiz directs this 1933 romantic comedy/drama, which was adapted from Alice D. G. Miller’s story by Robert Presnell Sr. In addition to the cast as listed above, Glenda Farrell and Allen Jenkins make appearances as two of Anne and Neil’s fellow travelers.
The Keyhole may sound like a comedy of errors, but the tone in the beginning is decidedly darker than the viewer would expect from the synopsis. The film opens with Maurice planning to commit suicide (when really, he is just trying to reel Anne into his blackmail trap).
There is a great amount of tension between Anne and Maurice from the get-go. A plot combining a bad history together, monetary exchange over cruel conflict and constant scheming is established. And then, to top it off, Schuyler and his marital jealousy are introduced. It’s all very dramatic!
Not all is dark and dreary in the film, though. Comic relief is provided by Farrell and Jenkins. Jenkins portrays Neil Davis’ detective partner who is posing as a valet, Glenda a gold-digging girl who tries to win Jenkins over on the trip to Cuba. This subplot is light, funny and cute, bringing up the film’s mood quite a bit. The two have wonderful chemistry.
Brent and Francis also have good chemistry, but their relationship is less fun to watch because it’s a bit sketchy. Both give top-notch performances here.
Francis injects the perfect amount of melodramatic delivery into her character of Anne while remaining believable for the most part. Brent gives a strong, reserved performance that is very convincing, but understated.
Though there isn’t a whole lot to laugh about between Brent and Francis, Anne’s big plot against Maurice does pack a bit of humor. Anne is very sneaky and is easily able to make Maurice her puppet. He falls into her trap very quickly, and it can be very funny to watch.
Owsley was the perfect choice for the role of Maurice. His character here is just as unlikable as his character of Eddie Miller in Ten Cents a Dance (whom, you may remember, I hated very much). With a capable actor like Owsley behind the deplorable character of Maurice, the film easily succeeds in getting the audience on Anne’s side despite her own faults.
Between Anne’s conniving plan and the Farrell/Jenkins pairing, the film makes a big shift from tense drama to a mix of comedy, sentimental romance and a continued underlying drama as it moves along.
The Keyhole is a fast-paced film with a fairly elaborate, very soapy plot that keeps the viewer hooked. It’s a ton of fun to watch, and is made even better by the great cast. The score: 4/5