The Virtuous Sin (1930)
User ReviewsReview this title
In Russia in 1914, Marya (Kay Francis) is loved by young doctor Victor Sablin (Kenneth MacKenna), but she does not return those sentiments past friendship. He talks her into marrying him anyways, with him having a full understanding that she likes him and admires his work in finding serums for deadly contagious diseases (never named oddly enough), but nothing past that. They are on the brink of the cure for a disease when WWI breaks out and Victor is conscripted into the army as a lieutenant, putting an end to their work together. Complications ensue.
At the beginning of the film I was OK with Victor's character, but by the end of the film I just wanted to take him into a room and slap him around for an hour or so and stick a pacifier in his mouth. He is a whiner extraordinaire. He whines about the war, he ignores his duty as a soldier - reading science books instead of doing routine inspections, because he thinks it is up to him to decide what is more important. He whines as though WWI was thought up by General Platoff (Walter Huston) because he was bored with peace, and when he is condemned to death for insubordination, he whines some more.
Marya loves her husband, even though she may not be IN love with him. General Platoff has complete say over Victor's fate, so Marya goes to see him to try and get a pardon - she has only a few precious days before Victor is to be shot. When she can't get to him dressed in black as a potential widow, she decides to get to him through her feminine charms. Now Platoff is apparently a guy who has a use for females only for sexual reasons - the army is his true wife, but Marya manages to win his heart, and for the first time, Platoff actually begins to heed that organ. Marya has an unexpected side effect occur too - she begins to fall in love with the general, while still having strong feelings of loyalty to Victor. How will all of this work out? Watch and find out.
The wildcard in this film is Jobyna Howland as Alexandra Stroganov, the owner of the brothel in which Marya pretends to work while she is charming Platoff. She comes off howlingly and intentionally funny, and at first I wondered what she was doing here, but she really was needed as some comic relief to keep this rather bleak Russian tale from being too bleak. Don't worry - it's not as though the Marx Brothers have been inserted into All Quiet on the Western Front.
Let me also commend Kay Francis' acting here. This is mainly her show. She does a great job playing a woman in a true moral dilemma. Catch it if you can, but, like me, you may need to watch it twice to appreciate it.
This is an enjoyable film although it drags in parts and is quite stagey, eg, the characters sometimes deliver their lines facing the camera and each scene fades out before we start the following scene. Kenneth MacKenna is a real arse-hole in this film twatting on about his own personal honour. Kay Francis has become a slag to save his life and the prick just seems ungrateful. Thank goodness the film ends in the way that it does. I liked Walter Huston's character in the film - he is a tough general - and I felt sorry for him when he realized that he had been used by Kay Francis. I thought that he delivered the best line of the film in the battle scene where he grabs Victor back from going over the bunker to certain death. His command is "You're alive and you will please remain that way!"
The film keeps you guessing as to what Marya's tactic is going to be in order to secure Victor's release. In the end, it's nothing more than being a slut so it's slightly disappointing in terms of an exciting plot. Jobyna Howland has some funny moments as the brothel madam "Alexandra". Overall, the film is OK.
As an early film in the career of the legendary director George Cukor, this is an interesting example of how "more becomes less", meaning that it has emotional themes that go all over the place and is at one moment moody and somber, then silly and frivolous. As the second of four films for Huston and Francis, it attempts to be sincere, but ends up silly. Involved at the time with Ms. Francis, Kenneth MacKenna is perhaps one of the worst actors I've seen to grace the silver screen, with an obvious lisp that made Francis's own speech impediment seem absent, and braying every line as if he wanted to be heard down the block from the theater where this film would be playing. Even if the rumor is true that MGM's John Gilbert's voice was sabotaged by Louis B. Mayer's orders, it wasn't as annoying as MacKenna's is here. Every moment Howland is on screen just gets more and more silly, and it's even more difficult to imagine her actually being a madame as is subtly implied. When the unbilled singer starts to yowl her aria in the cafe sequence, I had to reach for some aspirin. Then comes along Ann Brody as the helium voiced housekeeper. After all that, I felt bad for whoever was in the sound booth, because by the time this was done, my ears were ringing from all the unpleasant noises coming from my TV.