Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Great Sinner (1949)



“When a man takes the trouble to be so rude to a woman, he is usually falling in love with her.”
“You're not a woman. You are a symptom.”
“Of what?”
“Of one of the world’s deadliest diseases, sophistication.”


            The Great Sinner is not one of the best classic films I have ever seen. If it had not been for Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck starring in the film I probably never would have sat through it. It is from the start depressing and nerve wracking and the subject of gambling and self ruin is not one of my favorite story devices. But the performances by the cast were great.
            Peck plays a writer named Fedja living in the year 1847. He is traveling from Russia to Paris by train when he meets the beautiful young woman named Pauline Ostrovsky (Gardner). They do not speak for the entire train trip to Wiesbaden, Germany. When Pauline gets off the train Fedja follows her.
            Fedja comes to find that Pauline and her father are compulsive gamblers. They win thousands of Marks a hand and then lose it all in a flash. Fedja is fascinated by all of this and decides to write a book about the characters he has met.
            He finds that Pauline and her father owe more money they can possibly ever get to a man named Armand (Melvyn Douglas). Armand is willing to forgive their debts if Pauline marries him but Fedja wants Pauline for himself since he has fallen in love with her. He goes to the gambling hall one afternoon and plays roulette. His luck is incredible and he just keeps winning. By the end of the night he want won enough money to pay Pauline’s debts and take her away. Armand tells Fedja to keep the money until morning hoping that Fedja will gamble the rest of his money away. The plan works and Fedja is left with virtually nothing.
            Fedja spirals out of control from the man he used to be. He does not even want to see Pauline who wants nothing more than to help him.
            The story got on my nerves after the first forty-five minutes mostly because I was getting nervous with Fedja losing all his money.
            Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner were wonderful together. They looked stunning paired together even in period costumes. Gardner played Pauline beautifully this along with My Forbidden Past, is one her best acted films. Peck was such a great actor the man could play any part given to him and just be perfect. He looked a little silly in period costume but his acting more than made up for that.
            The rest of the cast was alright. Melvyn Douglas played a slim (the second time I have seen him play a character like this and I did not like it!). He was good but he is like Peck, Douglas always gives a good performance. Frank Morgan plays a math professor who is a compulsive gambler. When he finally wins then loses a big sum of money he kills himself. Needless to say Morgan is in not in the film for that long. Agnes Moorehead and Ethel Barrymore are also credited above the main title but they are barely in the film. Moorehead pops up every now and again as a pawn shop owner and she is a creeper. Barrymore has like two scenes towards the end and her character croaks at the gambling table.
            Robert Siodmak is a well known Noir director. He brings that touch of Noir to this seedy story of gambling and debauchery. Siodmak’s touch was perfect for the type of story.
            The Great Sinner was very well made with a great cast but I could not get into the story at all. It is an attempt to bring a nineteenth century melodrama of gambling to the big screen and it just either did not translate well from the book or fell flat somehow in the process of the story cinematic telling. I will say that even in literary form I would not be attracted to a gambling story where the main character falls off the wagon hard let alone a film. But after all is said and done, with an excellent cast and director The Great Sinner is worth seeing at least once.