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Friday, October 2, 2015

SEVEN SINNERS (1940)

Hollywood utility player Tay Garnett helmed more than his fair share of genre fodder, but rose to the occasion when given half a chance. Here, he’s on form and in his element, playing out story & character riffs to recall some of his best work in ONE WAY PASSAGE/’32 and CHINA SEAS/’35*. Marlene Dietrich, cementing her renewed top-tier status after DESTRY RIDES AGAIN/’39 (still exotic/less abstract), is another riot-inducing bar-hall ‘chantuesie,’ now in modern tropical climes. Drifting from port to port with a couple of loyal pals (klepto-pickpocket Mischa Auer & ham-fisted protector Broderick Crawford), she lands in a new sort of trouble when she falls hard for John Wayne’s Navy officer. The feeling’s mutual, but also a disaster for the career-minded Duke, especially when waterfront thug Oskar Homolka claims Marlene as his own; then calls in the goons to prove it. It’s nonsense, of course, but awfully well organized by Garnett. (Some OTT bar fights might be out of an Agnes de Mille ballet.) Lenser Rudolph Maté makes it all look like an easy shoot, and quickly susses out how to do right by the famous Marlene cheek bones, feathers, sparkly hats and a spectacular skin-tight ‘nude’ number, courtesy of designer Irene. And what an unusually deep acting bench from Universal Pictures: Dietrich, Wayne, Auer, Crawford, Homolka, plus Reginald Denny, Anna Lee, Billy Gilbert, even a nice bit for Albert Dekker for a not unhappy (how'd it get by the Production Code) ending.

DOUBLE-BILL: *If Lana Turner/John Garfield’s POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE/’46 is Garnett’s best-known; ONE WAY PASSAGE is his best; and CHINA SEAS most like this.

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