Tag Archives: John Miljan

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933, Phil Goldstone)

It’s hard to have worse written characters than dialogue. Like, how can character motivation be worse than what the characters speak to show their motivation.

The Sin of Nora Moran shows what it’s like to have worse characterizations than dialogue. It’s not pretty. What’s sort of frustrating is the occasional bursts of interest. They seem to be accidential or just further attempts at manipulating the audience while not providing the actors any possible explanation for their motivations. Because Sin of Nora Moran turns out to be all about its reveal.

And not the reveal it promises from the first few minutes or from the title. It has a second big reveal, which negates the first big reveal, but also casts a shadow back on the entire film. Sure, it’s only an hour and change, but it’s a long shadow. Or, more aptly, it’s one of the terrible filters director Goldstone and editor Otis Garrett use to show characters suffering internal turmoil. The performance and the narration (and the performance of the narration) isn’t enough. Nora Moran has to cloud everything over to make sure audience gets it.

But it doesn’t matter, because there’s nothing to get because the whole thing’s based on a twist and none of the characters seem aware of that twist. And they really, really, really should be aware of the twist. And, no, Bruce Willis isn’t a ghost. If only.

Here’s the movie. Governor’s wife Claire Du Brey confronts her brother, Alan Dinehart, about her husband having an affair. Dinehart is a political fixer; they’re both blue bloods, the husband (Paul Cavanagh) isn’t, but they both fund Cavanagh for their own ambitions. W. Maxwell Goodhue and Frances Hyland’s script falls over itself to remind the viewer Du Brey is an evil rich woman who shouldn’t be upset Cavanagh’s stepping out.

Of course, Cavanagh doesn’t tell his girlfriend he’s married, which should be a thing but isn’t. Zita Johann is the girlfriend. She’s Nora Moran. Is her sin having the affair with Cavanagh? No. Is her sin killing the man who raped her (John Miljan)? No. Is her sin covering up the murder with Dinehart’s help? No.

Sorry. I got distracted. So Dinehart tells Du Brey the story of Johann. He starts it with the revelation Johann is dead; she was executed for that murder she committed. It takes a while for victim reveal, but it’s sort of obvious. There aren’t very many characters in Sin of Nora Moran. It’s low budget. The filmmakers do a lot to try to draw attention away from those budget issues, but Gladstone’s direction of the actors is so bad and the script is so thin… well, it’s hard not to long for the stock footage montages when compared to the unrewarding narrative.

Because Nora Moran never delivers on anything. Dinehart’s narrating the story, but then it goes into Johann on the night of the execution doped up and remembering what got her there. What could be awesome layered narrative is instead muddled crap; Goodhue and Hyland’s script isn’t there; Gladstone’s direction isn’t there. Johann’s even aware she’s in the memory and able to change minor details–like she’s free to break from the scene to comment on it–which the film later forgets. Nora Moran seems like it had some behind the scenes disasters, anything to explain the slapdash narrative, but apparently not.

The overbearing music from Heinz Roemheld doesn’t help things, though I think it quiets down after a while. It’s sort of a blur. The music probably settles once Garrett starts with the filters. The movie always has bad swipes, but they’re nothing compared to that nonsensical filter the second half.

The acting is uniformly unimpressive. Zohann, Dinehart, and Du Brey come out best, but Zohann’s material is terrible and Dinehart and Du Brey are both fairly bad through the entire first act. It’s when they’ve got the most to do. They’re better at sitting around talking about the movie’s plot than acting it out.

Paul Cavanagh makes very little impression until he makes a lot of impression and it’s a bad one. He gets the big final acting scene and he’s lousy. It’s not his fault–the direction’s bad, the writing’s bad–but he’s still lousy.

Miljan’s barely in it, which is fine. He plays a drunken rapist. His performance is adequate, but his presence unpleasant.

Told straight, The Sin of Nora Moran might be a decent soap melodrama. Could be. With a better script, better direction, no filters. Some different actors. A lot more money. See, the movie’s got a lot going against it and nothing really going for it. It relies entirely on tricking the audience, with zero reward.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Phil Goldstone; screenplay by Willis M. Goodhue and Frances Hyland, based on a story by Goodhue; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Otis Garrett; music by Heinz Roemheld; released by Majestic Pictures.

Starring Zita Johann (Nora Moran), Paul Cavanagh (Gov. Dick Crawford), Claire Du Brey (Mrs. Edith Crawford), Alan Dinehart (District Attorney John Grant), Sarah Padden (Mrs. Watts), John Miljan (Paulino), and Henry B. Walthall (Father Ryan).


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Murder at Glen Athol (1936, Frank R. Strayer)

Murder at Glen Athol should be just a little bit better. The script has a number of twists, with Strayer handling them ably, but it’s just too short as it turns out. The film runs under seventy minutes, which would be fine for a B mystery, but Glen Athol (the title is problematic–Glen Athol is never said in the film) has a lot more going on.

First, just because it opens the film, there’s detective John Miljan and his sidekick, James P. Burtis. Miljan’s a debonair detective of the Nick Charles variety and Burtis is a rough and tumble ex-prizefighter. There’s some really funny bickering between them at the beginning and some throughout the film (Burtis’s performance isn’t quite good enough to make it work as well as it should), but once Irene Ware shows up as Miljan’s love interest… her effect on the hetero life mates isn’t really explored.

Second, the murder investigation reveals a complicated situation of blackmail and cover-up. Since the murder occurs twenty plus minutes into the film, there’s not much time for Miljan to make discoveries. Instead he does it mostly in summary–he explains the entire solution without the audience having seen key features on screen.

Strayer keeps a tight pace, so I doubt he would have needed more than ten more minutes to fill the story out.

Still, it’s a decent mystery; Miljan turns in a great performance.

Speaking of Strayer, he does wonders with a visibly tiny budgeted production.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay and adaptation by John W. Krafft, based on the novel by Norman Lippincott; director of photography, M.A. Anderson; edited by Roland D. Reed; produced by Maury M. Cohen; released by Chesterfield Motion Pictures Corporation.

Starring John Miljan (Bill Holt), Irene Ware (Jane Maxwell), Iris Adrian (Muriel Randel), Noel Madison (Gus Colleti), Oscar Apfel (Reuben Marshall), Barry Norton (Tom Randel), Harry Holman (Campbell Snowden), Betty Blythe (Ann Randel), James P. Burtis (Mike ‘Jeff’ Jefferies), Lew Kelly (Police Sgt. Olsen), Wilson Benge (Simpson) and E.H. Calvert (Dist. Atty. McDougal).


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The Ghost Walks (1934, Frank R. Strayer)

I’m not sure when the “old dark house” mystery film started–I haven’t seen any silent entries in the genre but I imagine there must be some, especially since the genre also appears to have been popular on stage. The Ghost Walks, in 1934–five years into talkies–shows the genre staling already. In an inventive plot development, it turns out the initial mystery of Walks is a fake, a performance arranged by a playwright (John Miljan) to impress Richard Carle’s Broadway producer.

It’s a fine plot development, only it occurs about fifteen minutes into the film, which means Charles Belden then needs to come up with an all new mystery. Though it does provide some humor–Carle and his assistant, Johnny Arthur, don’t believe the performance is over, even with people dying.

Belden comes up with another inventive plot point nearer the end. Not something I can share without spoiling a rather solid surprise (with a weak explanation, unfortunately). Belden has good ideas–he just doesn’t engagingly package them. I’m shocked he was able to withhold the final reveal, since he so impatiently revealed the play deception.

None of the acting’s unacceptable, though leading lady June Collyer is weak (while supporting Eve Southern is solid).

Miljan is a decent lead and Carle and Arthur’s bickering is amusing. It’s unfortunate Donald Kirke’s would be rapist never gets his comeuppance.

Director Strayer is clearly better than the material. He knows how to keep the actors moving, even if the script drags.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank R. Strayer; written by Charles Belden; director of photography, M.A. Anderson; edited by Roland D. Reed; produced by Maury M. Cohen; released by Chesterfield Motion Pictures Corporation.

Starring John Miljan (Prescott Ames), June Collyer (Gloria Shaw), Richard Carle (Herman Wood), Henry Kolker (Dr. Kent), Johnny Arthur (Homer Erskine), Spencer Charters (Guard), Donald Kirke (Terry Shaw), Eve Southern (Beatrice), Douglas Gerrard (Carroway) and Wilson Benge (Jarvis).


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