19 July 2002 | hofnarr
Cons conning cons
PATHS TO PARADISE begins in the seedy streets of San Francisco and ends just across the border in Mexico (at least in the 6 of 7 reels version currently extant). Plot lines will be discussed as we go along so don't continue reading this if you want to go into the film cold. Along the way we see Raymond Griffith's character, a man of numerous names ("I always answer pages; you never know what might turn up") turn the tables on a group of con artists (including the "Queen of China") fleecing tourists looking for a view of the seamy side of life using nothing more than his wits and a gas inspector badge.
He then matches wits with some of that gang, police and detectives in order to obtain a valuable diamond necklace. His major ruse is declaring himself to be a deft detective. He's able to convince the owner of the necklace of this to such an extent that the owner proclaims that this man is "the best detective in the world" to all the guests gathered at his sumptuous party. When the owner notices not all of those present agree, he suggests they hide a watch while the "detective" is in another room. Of course, while the watch is being hidden the "detective" is busily working on the safe.
Although initially at odds against the "Queen of China", who is working as a maid in the house with the necklace as her goal, they eventually team up to pull off the heist. A policeman wrestling with a dog who's taken his flashlight provides a very humorous scene as no matter how the "detective" (who's decided to nick the whole safe and work on opening it later) moves about, he's continually targeted by the beam of the flashlight. Feeling he's finally been caught, he sits down in exasperation with his hands in the air. Only then does he realize the policeman has no idea of his presence and the action continues.
After a few more mishaps, twists and turns the couple liberate the necklace and make use of a car to head toward the Mexican border. A police car is in hot pursuit and a call is put out for motorcycle cops from all the cities along the path of the fugitives. From San Luis Obispo on more and more motorcycle cops pour out until it almost looks like an early motocross event! Continued firing by the police manages to puncture one of the wheels of the getaway car. Although the police are not that far behind, the couple are able to stop and effect a change of tires speedily enough to resume their escape. At the end of the 6th reel, they've made it across the border and the police are unwilling to follow across the border due to "international complications". According to reviews of the film when it came out, the 7th reel has the woman feeling guilty about the theft and convincing her companion to return so they can give it back. And as a payoff for the gazillion cops on bikes earlier, apparently each and every one of them slaps a speeding ticket on the car when they do return. (At various times in the chase there are shots of the speedometer at 80 to 100 mph - which would be highly unlikely for the terrain shown).
All in all a fast-paced, funny film. It's highly unlikely that the 7th reel still exists in viable nitrate . . . but it sure would be fun to see it!