Cast & Crew
Anne Vallee is married to wealthy Schuyler Brooks, a man several years her senior, and is being blackmailed by her former husband and dancing partner, Maurice Le Brun. When she protests, Maurice threatens to get the money from her husband, so she agrees to pay him somehow. At home, Anne lies to her husband when he asks where she has been. Noticing that the necklace she wore at dinner is missing, Schuyler becomes suspicious and makes a note to check up on her activities. The next day, Anne tells her story to Portia Brooks, her sister-in-law: She married Maurice when she was young and they formed a dance team. When things became bad between them, Maurice asked for a divorce, but after her marriage to Schuyler, he reappeared to tell her that the divorce had never been completed. Portia suggests that Anne leave the country, luring Maurice along, and promises that once he is out of the country, she will use her connections to ensure that he can never return to the United States. Anne sails to Cuba using her maiden name, and Schuyler hires a detective, Neil Davis, to follow her without revealing to him that Anne is his wife. On board ship, Neil meets Anne through a ruse, and once the introductions are complete, he never leaves her side. She resists his advances, however, and Neil cables Brooks that she is not interested in a flirtation. Meanwhile, Neil's fortune hunting partner, Hank Wales, meets gold digger Dot. They both pretend to be wealthy, each one hoping to marry the other for money. In Cuba, Anne avoids telling Neil the name of her hotel, but he discovers it and books a room next to hers. Meanwhile, she stalls Maurice while she waits to hear that arrangements have been made to prevent his return to America. Neil continues his pursuit of Anne, and she begins to like him a great deal. Back in the United States, Portia tells Schuyler the truth behind Anne's visit to Cuba. He realizes that he has been mistaken and rushes after her. In the meantime, Neil and Anne have learned the truth about each other. Expecting Schuyler to appear at any moment, Neil escapes out the back to save Anne's reputation when he hears a knock on the door. Neil realizes that the man at the door was Maurice when he sees Schuyler later in the hallway. He begs Schuyler for a few minutes alone with Anne, and once in her room, he sends Maurice out by the balcony. When Schuyler knocks, Anne embraces Neil. Because of Schuyler's suspicious nature, she refuses to return with him. She has fallen in love with Neil, and because of her earlier marriage to Maurice, knows she was never really married to Schuyler. After hearing a commotion in the street, Anne and Neil discover that Maurice fell to his death during his escape to the balcony. Neil finds the suicide note that Maurice once sent to Anne and uses it to explain his death to the police. The way is now clear for Anne and Neil to pursue their romance.
Warner Bros.' The Keyhole (1933) did not disappoint, providing Francis with a plot that flirts with adultery, a sexy new costar in George Brent and 15 or so costume changes courtesy of the studio's star designer, Orry-Kelly.
In this romantic drama with comedic overtones, Francis plays Ann Brooks, who is married to a wealthy older man (Henry Kolker) and heads to Cuba to obtain a quickie divorce from a scheming ex-husband (Monroe Owsley). Ann sets sail on the same ship as her oily ex, who claims their marriage was never legally severed and threatens blackmail. Also aboard is the suave private detective her suspicious current husband has hired to trail her (Brent, in the first of several teamings with Francis).
As Ann plots to have the ex barred from re-entry to the U.S. (where he is not a citizen), the gumshoe tries to seduce her and then falls genuinely in love. Meanwhile, back at home, Ann's sympathetic sister-in-law (Helen Ware) explains all to the jealous husband, who decides to fly to Cuba in an attempt to straighten things out.
Providing amusing support are Allen Jenkins as Brent's obtuse sidekick, Glenda Farrell as a brassy gold-digger with designs on Jenkins, Ferdinand Gottschalk as a diminutive lawyer and Clarence Wilson as the dour head of the detective agency.
Robert Presnell, Sr. adapted his screenplay from a story by Alice D.G. Miller called The Adventuress. The Keyhole, shot in only 25 days on a budget of a mere $167,000 (belied by some extravagant sets), benefits from Michael Curtiz's snappy direction and Barney McGill's fluid cinematography. Some plot elements of the film were reworked for the Warner Bros. musical Romance on the High Seas (1948), which marked Doris Day's movie debut and also was directed by Curtiz.
William Powell, another of Francis's most compatible leading men, was to have starred opposite her in The Keyhole before last-minute complications led to the casting of Warners newcomer Brent. James Robert Parish in Hollywood's Great Love Teams writes that, "In their day, Francis & Brent were Warner Bros.' melodramatic equivalent of MGM's droll Myrna Loy and William Powell, and were regarded by the bulk of steady filmgoers as the height of refined, upper-class romantics; personified, sartorial elegance."
It was around this time, according to Francis biographers Lynn Kear and John Rossman, that the actress learned to control a sometimes overactive face and "developed an acting trick in which she simply stared, expressionless, into the camera -- similar to the Garbo mask. It's effective, and she used and perfected it..."
The Keyhole was a successful film that confirmed Francis's position as a leading light at Warner Bros. A review of the day called it "Light entertainment saved by the grace of Kay Francis' charming personality. Miss Francis is gorgeous and makes the film entertaining through sheer personality." Some consider it one of the most enjoyable of the Francis "women's pictures" of the time, along with One Way Passage (1932) and I Found Stella Parish (1935).
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Robert Presnell (screenplay); Alice D.G. Miller (story)
Cinematography: Barney McGill
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Film Editing: Ray Curtiss
Cast: Kay Francis (Ann Brooks), George Brent (Mr. Neil Davis), Glenda Farrell (Dot), Monroe Owsley (Maurice Le Brun), Allen Jenkins (Hank Wales), Helen Ware (Portia Brooks), Henry Kolker (Schuyler Brooks), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Brooks' Lawyer)
by Roger Fristoe
Alice Duer Miller's screen story was entitled "The Adventuress." Kay Francis and George Brent were teamed for the first time on this film. Film Daily notes that Monroe Owsley replaced Antonio Moreno in the role of Maurice, and William Powell was originally announced for the George Brent role. According to Warner Bros. production reports contained in the film on the film at the AMPAS Library, the film took twenty-five days to shoot and was made for a total cost of $169,000. Although not based on the same source, the plot of Romance on the High Seas, a musical made in 1948 by Warner Bros., had some similarities to The Keyhole. It was directed by Michael Curtiz and starred Doris Day and Jack Carson.