If only it weren’t for Bill Travers… his performance drags the film into the realm of absurdity. It isn’t just his inability to act, it’s also his utter lack of charisma. It’s unbelievable anyone could like Travers the movie star (I’m thinking there must be or have been Victor Mature fans and George Raft fans, though I think Mature’s probably a better actor than Raft or Travers), so his having a role in an MGM picture with so much merit otherwise is puzzling.
Travers’s lack of a performance does everything it can to turn The Seventh Sin into a debacle, but it’s not quite enough to overcome Eleanor Parker and George Sanders. The film’s also well-paced at ninety-four minutes, but it’s Sanders and Parker who really give the film life. There are some problems, therefore, with the plot, because it centers around Parker and Travers’s broken marriage, except Travers is so bad, the real meat of the film is Parker’s friendship with Sanders, which opens up in to her altruism for the Chinese orphans. The Seventh Sin would have also been immeasurably helped if Miklos Rozsa hadn’t turned in an “Oriental” score. It’s rather annoying.
Until the end, when the film gets cheap in its happy resolutions (I’m wondering if the cheapness comes from the Maugham novel or if it’s a screenwriter’s invention… my only other experience (in memory) with a Karl Tunberg script has been a bad one, so it was a pleasant surprise he provided a framework Sanders and Parker could excel in filling), it’s a gradual, building experience about Parker. It’s a little too eventful to be a character study, but it comes really close and, as such, provides her with a great role. The film is filled with easy contrivances her performance makes not only believable but good.
Without Sanders, however, the film would be that debacle. It’s a perfect role for him–drunken, lecherous English businessman in China who is deeper than he appears–and it’s an essential element to the film… The Seventh Sin is set in 1949 and, to some degree, it really resembles a 1949 handling of the story. The Westerners in the Orient genre had slowed down by the late 1950s and the film follows a lot of the genre standards. Sanders’s character being one of those standards (as a comic foil, however, not as an actual character).
Unfortunately, Turner Classic Movies only plays a pan and scan print (IMDb has, in addition to lame user comments for the film, a seemingly incorrect aspect ratio of 2.35:1 listed… the titles are in 1.85:1 and the panning and scanning–and shot framing–suggest that aspect ratio), so it’s hard to say for sure how well or how poorly Ronald Neame does composing… but it seems like he did a fine, mediocre job. He has a definite understanding of how to shoot to best utilize the actors (Sanders and Parker take an excellent walk), but it’s not like he could have fixed Travers’s performance.
As unappreciated as Parker is an actress, I imagine Sanders (even if he is in a number of famous films) is even more so and a film with them together, giving such great performances, is a nice find.