|Captain Ivan Orloff
|Countess Diana Dorchy
|Baroness Alma Corri
|Released by RKO | Directed By Richard Boleslawski
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
Plenty of suggestive hints to the effectiveness of Captain Orloff’s campaign with the ladies. “He made me tell him things I wouldn’t tell my hairdresser!” He even gets a group of nuns swooning over him.
- Upon meeting the Baroness Corri, she implies that Orloff, a cavalryman, has a deeper attraction to horses than he does with women.
- When the villainess is revealed, she turns on a former lover and explains why she had to do so much suspicious leg work, “You don’t talk into your sleep!”
The Gay Diplomat: Seduction With a Smile
“Don’t you worry about his vitality!”
Have you ever sat through a James Bond movie and thought, “This is fine and all, but I could do without all the explosions and chases and maybe with a bit more sex.” If so (or even if that just sounds a little intriguing), The Gay Diplomat may be up your alley.
After a rousing battle montage, we’re introduced to the noble Captain Ivan Orloff. Daring, but most especially brilliant in the bedroom, he isn’t actually a diplomat– he’s a Russian spy, sent to Bucharest to seduce three women and determine which one is leaking sensitive information. (It’s a hell of a job, for sure.) One is the beautiful Countess Dorchy (Genevieve Tobin) who seems to have a real fondness for him, then there’s blabbermouth Madame Blinis (Ilka Chase), and, lastly, the consort to the secret service head of operations Baroness Corri (Betty Compson). Through gardenias and pillow talk, Orloff must cut a path through these women’s bedrooms to find the leak before it’s too late.
The Gay Diplomat is an interesting mixture of featherweight Lubitschian comedy and some darker moments. The presence of the ever-vivacious Genevieve Tobin definitely denotes an attempt to capture some of a more sophisticated spirit, as most of Orloff’s undercover work winds towards becoming literally under covers. There’s also plenty of repartee for everyone to bat around like a very silly game of badminton:
“Any use for a young man? Very tame around the house!”
“Very tame?! I should say not!”
But the most impressive work may be the movie’s rare delving into the darker side of the spy games. Orloff’s valet and co-spy, Gamble (Colin Campbell), spends most of the film as his goofy proletariat counterpart, taking the maids and shop girls out to get their perspectives on the spy games. But this flips when he enters the darkened hotel room to contact Orloff and instead finds a nameless ‘suave man’ (Arthur Edmund Carewe) there ready to kill him. Director Richard Boleslawski (Beauty for Sale, Men in White) lets loose here, switching between extreme close-ups, subjective camera angles, and dark, moody lighting that sets it distinctly apart from the rest of the film. Check out these shots:
It’s a fascinating little sequence if terribly anti-climactic (after many frustrating scrambles for each others throats, the suave man just casually pulls a gun out of his pocket and shoots), but it leads to Gamble– bloody, wounded, dying– crawling across the floor to the phone in a desperate attempt to warn his friend.
But that’s the very much the exception to the rest of the movie, which is much lighter and airier. The Gay Diplomat often gets trounced for the performance of its leading man, Ivan Lebedeff (mostly originating from the story mentioned in the Trivia below than his actual performance), but he serves the story well as a sort of Ramon Novarro-lite.
Genevieve Tobin (One Hour With You) is as delightful as ever. Tobin’s characters are often two-faced serial seducers, but that same sense of naughtiness is used to aim suspicions at her character and keep the audience guessing. As the other woman in this mystery, Betty Compson is unsurprising as a master manipulator, but still quite charming.
There are still a lot of oddities that add up to make The Gay Diplomat kind of a weird mixture of comedy and thriller, and it’s not exactly great at either. The ending is rather wonderful, with Orloff using his charm to trick a woman into confessing that she’s a spy while her former lover thinks that she’s simply running off with Orloff due to his sexual proclivity.
The Gay Diplomat really struggles to be more than the sum of its parts, and, in bits, there is some really good stuff. It may be a little too stilted for some and too uneven for others– the movie could either have used more laughs or more thrills, to be sure. But for a pleasant 67 minutes, it’s a fun enough little B picture.
Hover over for controls.
Trivia & Links
- The most infamous/only really interesting story for this one comes from IMDB trivia. I won’t vouch for its truthfulness, but it’s amusing enough to note here:
According to producer Pandro S. Berman, the filmmakers were aware that the picture was a “disaster” from the start, and were therefore stunned when audience preview cards came back raving about the talents of leading man Ivan Lebedeff, comparing him to Rudolph Valentino. Later he discovered that Lebedeff had in fact stolen the cards and written all the comments himself.
- In case you’re curious, Tobin is reading a book on the train called Implacental Monotremes and Marsupials… which is apparently a book about mammals who lay eggs. Not 100% sure where the movie was going with that.
- After much thought and consideration, I really have no idea what war the Russians are fighting in this movie, and it would seem that the movie doesn’t much care for revealing that either.
- Some notes from TCMDB include:
According to a Film Daily news item, a re-creation of a first-class Russian railroad passenger compartment was built on the RKO lot from blueprints of a genuine Russian railway.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is an obscure one. I got a copy from Cliff at Immortal Ephemera from when it showed on TCM. Thank you, Cliff!
Comment below or join our email subscription list on the sidebar!
Judy · January 23, 2015 at 3:10 am
This film was actually shown on one of the main UK TV channels, BBC2, a little while back – I think they got a job lot of obscure RKO films thrown in with Fred and Ginger!
Must admit this one was a “dislike” for me – I thought it was awful, though I don’t remember why in detail. I know I thought Ivan Lebedeff wasn’t much good. Reading your review makes me feel I must have missed a lot, though.
Danny · January 23, 2015 at 5:05 pm
I’m in a very, very small minority (considering how obscure this is, it’s like me versus a dozen people or so). I can see why people don’t like it for sure, but it hit the right notes for me.
Comments are closed.