Tag Archives: George Sanders

The Seventh Sin (1957, Ronald Neame)

The Seventh Sin has three problems. The first is the third act; it’s too rushed. Given the constraints of the film production–a shot-in-Hollywood production about a cholera outbreak in a rural Chinese town–there’s not so much to be done about it. The film has a limited cast, especially once the action moves from Hong Kong to that town, and the roles are restrictive. The second problem is Miklós Rózsa’s music. It’s occasionally perfectly good melodramatic stuff, but Rózsa also has a lot what he must have considered Chinese themes. Regardless of their origin, they come off as trite or condescending and completely alien to the film’s narrative. They’re as patiently false as the rear screen projection shots, only without the actors there to get the scenes through.

The third problem is the big one. It keeps The Seventh Sin down, even when everything else is working (though, obviously, not much of Rózsa’s score). “Leading man” Bill Travers is awful. He’s mediocre at the start, seemingly unable to fully handle the part of a vindictive cuckold, but once he actually has some character development to essay? Travers butchers it even worse.

Now on to the good. Lead Eleanor Parker. She starts the film desperately unhappy, floundering, angry, and completely transforms through her experiences. The Seventh Sin is front-loaded. The most dramatic story stuff is at the beginning, when dull Travers learns Parker’s having an affair with charming Jean-Pierre Aumont. By the time Travers drags Parker to the cholera outbreak, there’s not much drama left. They’re both resigned and burned out. Parker’s already gone through one entire dramatic arc with the character and then she has to build another one, only without any outside incitement. Despite Travers singlehandedly turning the tide of the cholera epidemic, Sin’s all about how Parker experiences it and how that experience changes her. And a lot of her experience is just sitting around miserable.

Sometimes she does have George Sanders, playing an Englishman who’s settled in the town to occasionally run an import and export business, but mostly to get drunk and snoop into people’s personal lives. He finds a kindred spirit in Parker and much of the second act involve his attempts to discover her secrets and then what to do with those discoveries.

All of Parker’s development comes in these quietly composed wide shots; she’s often alone in them, negotiating her place in space. When someone else comes into the shot–specifically Travers–it’s an intrusion. The subdued tension explodes. Parker argues magnificently in the film. The script never really gives Sanders a chance to keep up, which seems a missed opportunity (but not once the narrative plays out). At the beginning of the film, Travers actually does hold his ground for a moment or two but he quickly gets lost. It’s impossible to imagine how The Seventh Sin would’ve turned out with a better performance in his role.

While Ronald Neame gets the sole credit, Vincente Minnelli directed much of it–most of it? And given Neame left because he (incredibly and stupidly) disliked Parker’s performance, maybe Minnelli’s responsible for all the great direction of Parker.

Besides Parker and Sanders (who plays a soulful drunk just like he’s a soulful drunk), Aumont is pretty good. Françoise Rosay is excellent as a Mother Superior who gives Parker quite a bit of advice; it’s mostly from a humanistic standpoint, not a religiously influenced one, which makes the scenes particularly effective.

Good black and white photography from Ray June. He does a lot better with the matte paintings than with the rear screen projection.

Karl Tunberg’s script holds strong for almost the entire film, until the third act rush. That last minute stumble is mostly Tunberg’s fault, but Minnelli (or Neame) could’ve tried to do something to save it. The finale manages to have Parker in every second but lose the character’s depth. Her personal journey becomes perfunctory, which is a big problem given it’s the entire picture.

And most of the picture is quite good.

Except Travers. Travers is terrible.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ronald Neame; screenplay by Karl Tunberg, based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Miklos Rozsa; produced by David Lewis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Carol Carwin), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Paul Duvelle), George Sanders (Tim Waddington), Bill Travers (Doctor Walter Carwin), Françoise Rosay (Mother Superior) and Ellen Corby (Sister Saint Joseph).


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The Moon and Sixpence (1942, Albert Lewin)

The Moon and Sixpence has a number of serious problems, all of them the fault of director and screenwriter Lewin. As a director, while never spectacular, Lewin manages some competence and ambition. He tells Moon and Sixpence in a series of summarized flashbacks. Those flashbacks, narratively and budgetarily effective, end up being the film’s undoing.

The film opens with a text scroll informing the viewer it is about a famous painter, Charles Strickland. Charles Strickland, however, is not a real painter. He’s fictionalization of Gauguin. The source novel is first person, from the perspective of that novel’s author, W. Somerset Maugham. Herbert Marshall plays that “character,” only he’s not playing Maugham, he’s got a different name. So it was always supposed to be about a fictionalized version of real person, told by a fictionalized version of an author, but Lewin’s adaptation presents the fictional painter as a real person and the real author as a fictional one.

George Sanders plays the painter, Herbert Marshall plays the author. Even though the film starts with Marshall directly addressing the viewer about his plans to write a history of Sanders, Lewin eventually abandons Marshall entirely. It’s a problem since it’s supposed to be him telling the story… and it gets even worse when there’s an end text scroll to wrap things up. Why’d we need Marshall?

Well, Marshall’s needed because someone needs to do the acting. Sanders is good, but he’s barely in the film. He’s the subject of it, after all, and it’s structured as Marshall’s pursuit of him. There are only a handful of bad performances–but two of them, Doris Dudley and Molly Lamont, are extremely important because they’re the women in Sanders’s life. Lewin’s not a good director of actors; he tries to avoid them with the summarized flashbacks. Lots of voiceovers from Marshall, which eventually give way to voiceovers from people telling their story to Marshall.

A flashback in a flashback in a flashback.

Most of the film relies on Marshall, with occasional bursts of energy from Sanders. Maybe more than an hour of it (Moon and Sixpence runs ninety minutes). There are significant supporting cast members–Dudley and Steven Geray–but Marshall and Sanders are the salient points. Geray’s a caricature. Dudley doesn’t even get to be a caricature (similar to Lewin’s handling of Lamont). It should all be about Sanders, except since Lewin’s not adept at directing performances–not even good ones–Marshall ends up carrying the picture. He’s around the most.

Until the end. In the end, when the action moves to Tahiti, both Sanders and Marshall become detached thanks to the flashback structure. Instead of Marshall telling Sanders’s story, Marshall is telling his own story of hearing about Sanders. Maybe if Albert Bassermann and Florence Bates were better–both are mostly fine, Bates is even fun, but the parts are way too thin–their narratives would be more effective. Or maybe Lewin’s finally just ran out of rope as he lengthens the narrative distance more and more from Sanders.

Either way, just when Lewin needs to build something up for Sanders, he cuts and runs. Moon and Sixpence comes up short.

Eric Blore’s got an amusing, if pointless small part. Elena Verdugo is almost good as another woman in Sanders’s life. She’s certainly better than Dudley and Lamont; maybe she just ignored Lewin’s direction.

John F. Seitz’s photography is fine (he does well with the many projection shots neccesarily to put the cast in Paris and Tahiti). Dimitri Tiomkin’s music is a little much. Maybe if the film were more effective, the music would match, but the film’s ineffective and the music just draws attention to its failings.

The garrish Richard L. Van Enger editing doesn’t help things either.

The Moon and Sixpence seems like it should’ve given Sanders and Marshall great roles, but it doesn’t. Lewin inartfully treats Marshall like a narrative device and Sanders like a guest star. It especially disappoints with the failed conclusion, just because the film had been successfully coasting on its leads for so long, all Lewin needed to do was not botch the third act too much.

But he does botch it too much. Way too much.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Lewin; screenplay by Lewin, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Richard L. Van Enger; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; production designer, Gordon Wiles; produced by David L. Loew; released by United Artists.

Starring Herbert Marshall (Geoffrey Wolfe), Steven Geray (Dirk Stroeve), George Sanders (Charles Strickland), Doris Dudley (Blanche Stroeve), Molly Lamont (Mrs. Amy Strickland), Elena Verdugo (Ata), Florence Bates (Tiare Johnson), Albert Bassermann (Dr. Coutras), and Eric Blore (Capt. Nichols).


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Warning Shot (1967, Buzz Kulik)

Warning Shot is almost successful. For most of the film, director Kulik and screenwriter Mann Rubin craft an engaging mystery. Then the third act happens and they both employ cheap tricks and it knocks the film off course. It’s a rather short third act too–the film’s got a peculiar structure, probably to allow for all the cameos–and it just falls apart. What’s worse is the plot was already meandering (and promised more meandering) by that point.

David Janssen is a cop about to go to trial for killing an upstanding doctor. He’s got to prove himself innocent–or the doctor dirty–which means he visits various people. The first act–with Ed Begley as his boss, Keenan Wynn as his partner, Sam Wanamaker as the DA out to get him and Carroll O’Connor as the hispanic coroner–is completely different than the rest of the film. Kulik uses cockeyed angles, which Joseph F. Biroc shoots beautifully (though he doesn’t do as well with the hand-held look Kulik goes for in other early scenes). It makes all the exposition sail. The angles and the actors. The actors are very important.

There’s only one weak performance in Warning Shot–Joan Collins as Janssen’s estranged wife–all the rest are good or better. Even when it’s a single scene like Eleanor Parker or George Sanders. Parker’s better, she’s got a lot more to do than sit behind a desk and be a snot, which Sanders accomplishes admirably. George Grizzard is solid as Janssen’s newfound ally and Stefanie Powers is great as the dead doctor’s nurse. Lillian Gish has a small part as a witness and she’s a lot of fun. Begley, Wynn and especially Wanamaker are all strong. Carroll O’Connor as the–wait for it–Hispanic coroner is a little weird, but he’s not bad, just Carroll O’Connor playing a Mexican.

There’s a lot going on in the story for the first half of the film; the second half doesn’t have much material as far as the mystery, but it does have material for the supporting cast. They work at it and Janssen’s a phenomenally sturdy lead. He’s able to sell everything, from drinking buttermilk as a vice to fending off a seductive Collins. Bad performance or not, the latter seems unlikely.

I suppose the somewhat lengthy slide into troubled mystery waters is a bonus. It makes Warning Shot less disappointing. Even the finale, with its problems, should be better just because of location and Jerry Goldsmith’s competent score, but Kulik fumbles it. He also has some really bad blacking out sequences, one near the end, which might help to forecast the problem finish.

Still, some good acting, some great acting, a fine lead from Janssen; Warning Shot diverts for its entire runtime and intrigues for more than half of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Buzz Kulik; screenplay by Mann Rubin, based on a novel by Whit Masterson; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Jerry Goldsmith; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring David Janssen (Sgt. Tom Valens), Ed Begley (Capt. Roy Klodin), Keenan Wynn (Sgt. Ed Musso), Sam Wanamaker (Frank Sanderman), Lillian Gish (Alice Willows), Stefanie Powers (Liz Thayer), Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Doris Ruston), George Grizzard (Walt Cody), George Sanders (Calvin York), Steve Allen (Perry Knowland), Carroll O’Connor (Paul Jerez), Joan Collins (Joanie Valens) and Walter Pidgeon (Orville Ames).


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The Strange Woman (1946, Edgar G. Ulmer)

The Strange Woman opens with Dennis Hoey as a drunken widower and Jo Ann Marlowe as his evil little daughter. Herb Meadow's script is real bad in this opening, but it's nineteenth century kids playing and one of them is a psychopath, how good is the script going to be? But then it jumps forward to Hedy Lamarr playing the daughter, presumably as a young woman just of marrying age, and Hoey's contemporaries lusting after his kid.

The principal luster is Gene Lockhart, who schemes–aided by Lamarr's manipulations of her situation–to get her into his house and bed. In other words, there's no one particularly likable in Woman. When Lockhart's son, played by Louis Hayward, gets home from university, Lamarr's trying to seduce him too. He forgot how she once tried to kill him, obviously.

The film actually moves really well for the first forty or fifty minutes because it's a turgid, sensational melodrama without any likable characters. There's no investment. Lamarr's terrible, Hayward's terrible, the script's terrible. It's not like director Ulmer does much interesting–the film mostly takes place in boring houses or in front of them–but it does move.

Then George Sanders finally shows up as the latest man Lamarr must have–only he's not a dirty old man like Lockhart or a lust-crazed fop like Hayward, he's the story's first honest major character. Fifty minutes in is too late to introduce the protagonist.

The ending is really dumb, but it doesn't matter. So's the rest of the picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; screenplay by Herb Meadow, based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams; director of photography, Lucien N. Andriot; edited by John M. Foley and Richard G. Wray; music by Carmen Dragon; production designer, Nicolai Remisoff; produced by Jack Chertok and Eugen Schüfftan; released by United Artists.

Starring Hedy Lamarr (Jenny Hager), George Sanders (John Evered), Louis Hayward (Ephraim Poster), Gene Lockhart (Isaiah Poster), Hillary Brooke (Meg Saladine), Rhys Williams (Deacon Adams), June Storey (Lena Tempest), Moroni Olsen (Rev. Thatcher), Olive Blakeney (Mrs. Hollis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Partridge), Alan Napier (Judge Henry Saladine) and Dennis Hoey (Tim Hager).


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