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Sunday, February 22, 2015

THEY CALL IT SIN (1932)

Just engaged, and working for his future father-in-law, wealthy NYC man-about-town David Manners is bored in Kansas where he’s trying to close a business deal. Turns out, the whole little town is shut down; it’s Sunday, everyone’s in church. And that’s where Manners spots a very young, very beautiful Loretta Young playing the organ. Recently engaged or not, it’s love at first sight. And you believe it with Young, her face a little softer, a little rounder than later, a traffic stopper at 19. You can guess the rest: small town gal takes up his offer to move to the Big City only to be hurt & bewildered when she finds out her perfect beau is already engaged. Cue kind-hearted doctor pal George Brent (fresh & appealing) and opportunistic B’way producer Louis Calhern (the other kind of fresh) to move in. Yet under Thornton Freeland’s modest megging, the surprise is how level-headed the trashy old tale plays out. Manners, who always got these lousy roles, gets to be unusually straightforward about what he truly wants and what he settles for. Young is, if anything, even more pragmatic about her desires & her personal accommodations. And gal pal Una Merkel is around to make wisecracks and turn a few cartwheels. It’s a bitty thing, but often making better dramatic choices than you expect . . . until they suddenly toss in enough ludicrous melodrama for two films & a short-subject in the final reel. Public disgrace; murder accusations; emergency surgery; death-bed confessions; the works. The producer of record was Hal Wallis, but the desperate lurch toward dramatic tripe reeks of production chief Darryl F. Zanuck, soon to go it alone @ 20th Century.

DOUBLE-BILL: A real beauty in the same vein is Clarence Brown’s POSSESSED/’31 with Joan Crawford & Clark Gable.

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