The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne
Film Review by Kam Williams
Dubious Documentary Celebrates Checkered Career of African-American Jewel Thief
Doris Payne was born black back in 1930 in Slab Fork, West Virginia where she was raised during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. Besides having to withstand withering bigotry and racial discrimination as a child, she grew up in a dysfunctional family where her father routinely beat her mother right in front of her face.
That might help explain her turning to crime at an early age, starting with stealing a diamond from a department store, fencing it, and using the funds to help her mom escape the abusive marriage. Unfortunately, Doris didn’t stop there, but took to jewel thievery like a fish to water, gradually escalating to seven figure takes by targeting upscale retailers like Cartier and Tiffany.
Her modus operandi involved gaining the confidence of a gullible store clerk before resorting to distracting devices such as sleight of hand and dizzying hand jive. That reprehensible behavior kept the sticky-fingered felon forever on the run from authorities as she netted millions in gems over the course of a checkered career spanning six decades and counting.
Specializing in identity theft, Doris was an expert at impersonating wealthy socialites in exotic locales, as she did on Monaco where she passed
herself off as the wife of movie director Otto Preminger. Overall, she‘s employed at least 20 aliases, 11 Social Security numbers and 9 passports in pursuit of ill-gotten gems. Brief stints in prison couldn’t cure Doris’ compulsive kleptomania, which is why she’s presently doing time behind bars for purloining a precious stone worth 22Gs just last year.
Co-directed by Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne is a documentary of dubious intentions which futilely endeavors to paint an empathetic picture of an unrepentant octogenarian who simply fails to earn the audience’s respect. After all, her odious line of work has serious consequences not only for herself but for others, as was the case with a tearful clerk seen here who was fired for being fleeced by the wily old recidivist.
Doris Payne, an unappealing, un-role model who stole millions from the rich and simply frittered it away on herself in decadent fashion.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Running time: 74 minutes
Distributor: Film Forum