I always approach pre-code movies with some trepidation. I love them, but perhaps I expect too much of them. So many of them promise so much but then don’t deliver, or they spoil everything with a moralistic ending. But The Keyhole is a pre-code gem that most certainly does not disappoint.
Kay Francis is Ann, married to the wealthy but insanely jealous Schuyler Brooks. He is convinced she is having an affair, and employs a private investigator to shadow her. In fact she does have a secret, but it’s not what he suspects. She is being blackmailed by a Maurice, a former lover she had been foolish enough to marry. He had told her he would arrange a divorce, but after she marries Schuyler Brooks she discovers that he never did get that divorce. And now he’s threatening to tell Brooks about her marriage.
Ann and her aunt cook up a plan to lure Maurice (who is not a US citizen) out of the country. The aunt will then use her political connections to make sure he can’t get back into the US. Ann sets off for Cuba, shadowed by both Maurice and by a smooth-talking charmer of a private detective, Neil (played by George Brent). Neil’s mission is to find out how faithful she is to her husband, so he sets about romancing her. She certainly finds him attractive, but will she succumb to temptation?
There’s also a sub-plot involving Neil’s comic relief partner and a brassy blonde gold-digger/conwoman played by Glenda Farrell.
Monroe Owsley makes a very slimy villain. Glenda Farrell is wonderful as always. I’ve never much cared for George Brent, finding his charm a little too contrived and a little too smarmy, but he’s not too bad in this picture. But the movie belongs to Kay Francis, and she’s marvellous.
The plot is very pre-code, with the sacred institution of marriage not being taken over-seriously. The movie takes the thoroughly pre-code attitude that marriage should never be allowed to stand in the way of love.
It’s all very entertaining, the mix of romance and comedy is just right, and as a bonus the movie features some truly gorgeous sets and costumes. You really couldn’t ask for much more.