Turn up the sound, however, and you'll find that the actors are speaking German. Was Frauen Träumen ("What women dream") was made in Berlin, and released shortly after Hitler came to power. But there's nothing about politics here; this is a light romantic comedy, not unlike Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise, made the previous year. This one also concerns jewel thievery, committed by the sort of glamorous people who would look perfectly comfortable dining at the Yacht Club with the cream of society, smoothly exchanging quips—only to depart, late in the evening, with a satchel full of stolen goods.
The story concerns a nightclub singer named Rina (Nora Gregor), who compulsively steals jewelry from the finest shops. She's cool and smart, but even she can't figure out what's happening when a mysterious older gentleman begins trailing her. Every time she steals a gem, this gent arrives on the scene soon afterward and pays for it. (His motivation is not explained until late in the game.) Meanwhile, Rina is investigated by a pair of bumbling detectives (Peter Lorre and Otto Wallburg). Füssli, the cop played by Lorre, happens upon the clue that breaks the case: a glove that Rina left behind in a jewelry shop, which bears the aroma of a distinctive perfume. Füssli's young friend Koenig (Gustav Fröhlich) happens to work in a parfumerie, and recognizes the scent as a very expensive one called "What Women Dream." This leads the police—and Koenig—to Rina, but she eludes capture. A romance develops between the lady thief and the perfume dealer. She swears she'll reform, but then the older gentleman intervenes. He too is a thief, and admires the lady's technique. He wants her to team up with him, but she resists. Will Rina go straight? Or will those hapless cops finally catch up with her before she can make amends?
Several of the actors here are familiar from other, more widely seen films. Gustav Fröhlich is remembered for his performance as Freder in Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis, while Nora Gregor is best known for Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game. Incidentally Miss Gregor is strikingly attractive, and looks elegant in every scene of this film, even when she's lounging about in the leading man's dressing gown. (Perhaps then in particular.) But needless to say, Peter Lorre is the most familiar player of all. He has a prominent featured role, and his spirited comic turn is something to savor. His detective Füssli distinguishes himself by repeatedly trapping himself in his own handcuffs, but his best scene comes when he sits at a piano at Koenig's apartment and jauntily sings a silly song about how cute policemen are, bobbing up and down to the rhythm as he accompanies himself. (Lorre's piano playing was obviously faked, but the singing voice is his own.) The punchline comes when Rina joins him in a duet, and deftly picks his pocket of several items before the number ends.
Was Frauen Träumen is quite enjoyable and well worth seeking out, but, as with all German productions from this period, no matter how light-hearted, there a dark undercurrent impossible to ignore. When watching German films of the early '30s I always wonder what became of the actors and crew members behind the scenes during the subsequent years. Sadly, the lives of Nora Gregor and Otto Wallburg, who were Jewish, ended too soon. Gregor managed to escape the Nazis but eventually died by her own hand, while Wallburg was detained, and later murdered at Auschwitz. Other personnel were more fortunate. Billy Wilder, who co-authored the screenplay, was surely the biggest success story to emerge from the project. He made it to America, wrote for Lubitsch and others, and subsequently became one of Hollywood's top directors.
This pleasant romantic comedy stands as an entertaining but poignant memento of its time and place, a souvenir of an elegant, classy world that, all too soon, would be destroyed.