The Virtuous Sin (1930) Poster

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Early Cukor Effort Worth Viewing
sobaok7 November 2001
It's fun watching Kay Francis seduce Russian General Walter Huston in order to save real-life husband Kenneth MacKenna (a scientist) in this early talkie. MacKenna's life is at stake for insubordination (he'd rather cure people than kill them) -- Francis tries a ploy to get husband MacKenna pardoned. She becomes an entertainer at a local brothel (she even sings in her audition with Jobyna Howland). Francis gets real tough with Huston during his pursuit and interest in her. Her portrayal shows the complexity of her emotional conflict as she finds her self falling for the general while trying to hold on to the loyalty she feels for her husband. It's quite a performance and a multi-faceted opportunity that Francis plays to the hilt. Francis and Huston were a good team (4 films together) and it's too bad this one isn't more available to viewers.
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It grows on you
AlsExGal25 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The first time I watched this I was somewhat confused. What kind of a film is this trying to be? I asked myself. Fortunately it was Christmas break so I could watch it again, and that second viewing put some matters into perspective.

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.
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"To be loyal I had to be disloyal."
AAdaSC25 November 2010
Marya (Kay Francis) gets friendly with Gen. Platoff (Walter Huston) in order to save her husband Victor (Kenneth MacKenna) from being executed. This involves sleeping with him. The outcome may not be what you expect.

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.
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So deliciously bad, this has to be seen to be believed!
mark.waltz5 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This over-the-top melodrama should be seen in repertory with the 1934 Kay Francis camp classic "Mandalay" for its exotic setting, outlandish situations and the presentation of its heroine (in both cases, Kay Francis) as a hard-luck heroine who turns to sin to survive and to protect her man. As absurd as it was in its plotline, "Mandalay" was subtle in comparison to this early talkie drama that almost seems like an operetta in the way it is played out. The only thing it is missing to be operetta is the presence of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in the leading roles, although it does have one aria so badly sung you might find yourself howling. The basic premise has Kay Francis loosening her morals after her army officer fiancee, Kenneth MacKenna, is sent to prison by general Walter Huston whom Francis decides to seduce to get released. She goes to work in the cafe of the outrageous madame Jobyna Howland (completely out of her mind as she screeches each line as if she were a witch cackling) and even tries to seduce a buffoonish guard (Lew Meehan who reminded me of Sterling Holloway) in order to find out exactly when the general will return then screams for help to get away from him when she spots Huston. When Huston sees her in Howland's "cafe", he "demands" Francis entertain him by thrusting her arms around his neck. Francis actually finds herself falling in love with Huston, and when MacKenna is released thanks to Huston, he vows to find the man whom Francis seduced to free him and kill them.

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.
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