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Finding a Striking Scene in an Old and Forgotten Movie

by John Aquino on 04/16/20

While doing writing and legal work from home, I'll sometimes take a break and watch an old movie. I saw one that is fairly obscure, but it had a very interesting scene, well-written and well played.

The movie is titled Journal of a Crime (Warners 1934), a drama about a jealous wife, murder, and guilt. Its creative team later did well-known work, mostly in a lighter vein. The director was William Keighley, who later co-directed The Adventures of Robin Hood. The screenplay was written by F. Hugh Herbert and Charles Kenyon from a play by Jacques Deval. Herbert's screenplay from his mild sex comedy The Moon Is Blue (1953) created controversy because it used the word "virgin" and was consequently banned in Boston, while Kenyon adapted Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for film. Deval's best remembered work was the play Tovarich about Russian royalty who after the revolution are forced to assume the roles of butler and maid in the household of a wealthy American. It was filmed in the U.S. in 1937  made into a stage musical in 1964 starring Vivien Leigh.

In Journal of a Crime, a man named Costelli shoots and kills a teller while robbing a bank in France. He flees past a theatre. An actress named Odette Florey is leaving by the stage entrance to meet her married lover Paul Moiet when she is shot by Moilet''s wife Francoise. Costelli is quickly captured, and the police accuse him of the murder of both the bank teller and Odette, whom they assume he shot in the act of escaping. Moliet, who is waiting for Odette, finds his wife's gun in the gutter. He accuses her of Odette's murder, but they both know that if he made his accusation public it would ruin his reputation. But he warns her that her guilt will destroy her.

In the scene in question, several years after Odette's death, Costelli is tried and convicted of both murders and sentenced to be guillotined. Francoise is shaken and arranges to meet Costelli in his cell. We see him sitting on his bed trying to read the novel Robinson Crusoe, which is about a  man who is shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. Costelli seems confused and frustrated about the book. Francoise is brought in. The dialogue that follows is my transcription.

Costelli: What do you want? Do I know you?
Francoise: I came to tell you that you didn't kill Odette Florey.
Costelli (smiling): Is that right? Well, how do you know that?
Francoise: Because I did.
Costelli (surprised): Why?
Francoise: Because she was taking my husband.
Costelli: Well, what does it matter to me?
Francoise: I had to tell you.
Costelli (thinks, nods as if he understands and says, slowly): Yes, I guess you kinda did. Well--that's that. I mean, they're going to cut my head off for the one murder, so I might as well have my head cut off for two as one. I would suggest you just go home and not tell anyone about this. In a way, it's kind of funny. The joke's on them--killing me for two murders when I only committed one. (He seems to come to a realization.) Maybe that'll make it easier, knowing that the joke's on them. (He brings his fingers to his forehead and then flicks them to her as if to say, "So long." Francoise starts to leave. Suddenly Costelli shouts after her.) Wait! 
Francoise (anxiously): Yes!
Costelli (jumps off the bed carrying the book and brings it to her): I've want to ask you something. I've been reading this book Robinson Crusoe and some of the pages are missing at the end. Do you know what happens to him?
Francoise (surprised by his question): Yes--he returns to England and is reunited with his family.
Costelli (pleased): Ah! That's nice. That's nice. (He turns, sits back on the bed and happily pages through the book. Francoise leaves,)

I just wanted to share the scene.

Copyright 2020 by John T. Aquino






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