Jean-Pierre Aumont

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.



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).

The Seventh Sin (1957, Ronald Neame)

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.



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).

Hôtel du Nord (1938, Marcel Carné)

The fabulous, “has to be a set” of a small business district adjacent a canal is not the best thing about Hotel du Nord, but it’s uncomfortably close. The film’s solidly directed, with some nice composition and some nice camera movement, but it’s nowhere near enough to pluck the film from the tub of melodramatic lard it’s submerged in… much less clean it off.

The film starts beautifully, establishing the community of a small residential hotel, opening with a girl’s first communion party. It introduces, among others, a young Spanish boy, adopted by the proprieters, a war orphan. The Spanish boy doesn’t completely disappear like the girl does, but he’s just there to fill space in the frame.

I just discovered, looking on IMDb, the film’s from a novel, which explains everything… why the suggestion of character development is more important to the film then actual character development (presumably the novel dealt with all its characters). Instead of focusing on one of the interesting stories, the film concentrates on a young couple whose suicide pact goes wrong (he shoots her, runs off, she lives). Besides being stupid, the problem with this story being central to the film is Jean-Pierre Aumont. He’s terrible as the cowardly lover and, in her scenes with him, failed murderee Annabella is also terrible. There’s no chemistry between the two and their scenes are so dumb, it’s all very annoying.

More interesting–I had really hoped, when Aumont pulled out the gun, he was going to take the hotel hostage, that turn of events would have made for an interesting movie–is the love triangle between Annabella, Louis Jouvet and Arletty . It’s a little hard to believe–and the film really overlooks the interest possibilites between Jouvet and Annabella–but at least all the principals act well in this storyline. Jouvet’s got a really lame tragic romantic hero role, so he’s fifty-fifty, doing well when the script’s not holding him back and doing less than well when he’s got instructions like, “stare intently at the camera.” Arletty comes off the best.

The rest of the supporting cast does a great job, particularly Bernard Blier as a cuckold. There’s a lot of humor in the film, thanks to the hotel setting and the cast of characters, but it’s so serious, so intent on taking its stupid suicide pact story seriously, no one can help this film too much.

The end is an eye-roll-inducing street fair scene. It pads the running time maybe half of the last ten minutes of the film. There’s no point to it (whether there was one in the novel is inconsequential) and it’s annoying. Jouvet doers get to come off extra creepy because of it though, so maybe that reason’s one the director had.

The French made a lot of good movies in the 1930s and 1940s, a lot of films with innovative techniques. Hotel du Nord is an attempt to copy one of those films and sell it as something different. Something unique and exciting. It’s neither. And the director’s frequent use of soft focus in the first act was really annoying too.



Directed by Marcel Carné; screenplay by Jean Aurenche and Henri Jeanson, based on the novel by Eugène Dabit; directors of photography, Louis Née and Armand Thirard; edited by Marthe Gottie; music by Maurice Jaubert; production designer, Alexandre Trauner; produced by Jean Lévy-Strauss; released by Cocinor.

Starring Annabella (Renée), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Pierre), Louis Jouvet (Monsieur Edmond), Arletty (Raymonde), Paulette Dubost (Ginette), Andrex (Kenel), André Brunot (Emile Lecouvreur), Henri Bosc (Nazarède), Marcel André (Le chirurgien), Bernard Blier (Prosper), Jacques Louvigny (Munar), Armand Lurville (Le commissaire), Jane Marken (Louise Lecouvreur), Génia Vaury (L’ infirmière), François Périer (Adrien) and René Bergeron (Maltaverne).

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