What The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Boleslawski and Arzner, USA, 1937) has going for it is Joan Crawford, still in the stage of her career when she was sleek and rather sexy in an overly stylized, Art Deco kind of way. The story itself–a remake of a popular Norma Shearer vehicle from less than a decade earlier and would be remade once again in the 1950’s with Greer Garson–is ridiculous, forgettable nonsense, involving Crawford as an ambitious American girl pulling herself up by her boostraps via less-than-legal means (she’s a jewel thief, in league with William Powell), using her sex appeal and charisma to charm her way into the homes of the British aristocracy. In a completely unsurprising twist Crawford is revealed to be a “bad” girl with a heart of gold, which all leads up to a climactic breakfast-table showdown that allows her to unveil the inherent hypocrisy of her newly adopted, moneyed set (the moral of the story: everyone has a sordid little secret to hide!). Indeed.
There’s one really great, memorable scene at about the midway point where Crawford’s true identity is wordlessly revealed, and Mrs. Cheyney’s household turns out to be quite different than it originally seemed. It’s a rare clever moment in a film clearly striving for the sparkling, witty hijinks-among-jewel-thieves joie de vivre exemplified by Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise. The grand MGM luxe treatment, however, gives the glossiness a lumbering heaviness that prevents it from ever quite getting off the ground; it’s also burdened by the necessity of instilling a neat moral lesson. But it’s overall a painless experience, and often quite enjoyable in its own minor way.