Actors and Sin (1952) – reviewed by George

Ben Hecht was a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay, and he wrote all kinds of stuff: short stories, novels, nonfiction, plays, and screenplays. For this movie, he produced, wrote, and directed (his frequent collaborator Lee Garmes was co-director and Director of Photography). The title, “Actors and Sin” is a clever abridgment of the titles of his own two short stories which make up the film, namely “Actor’s Blood” and “Woman of Sin”.
“Actor’s Blood” tells the story of Marcia Tillayou (Marsha Hunt), whose father, Maurice Tillayou (Edward G. Robinson) is a hammy actor who can no longer get work. In contrast, Marcia is a star from the first time she walks out on a Broadway stage. He basks in her glow and feeds off it. In the English saying, He “dines out on” her fame. But even as she becomes more beloved, her manner changes. She cheats on her husband, she is difficult and argumentative, and begins a downward spiral which results in her murder, which is never solved. And then her father (a la Poirot) gathers all her acquaintances and enemies (at the end of her life she had no friends) together, and serves them a grand dinner while he solves the mystery of her death for this group of famed Broadwayites. He stages the evening so that they have to  figure out the clues themselves, but the mystery is finally solved.
“Woman of Sin” boasts a Hollywood agent as the hero, or at least as the central character, no matter how ridiculous this might have seemed at the time. Eddie Albert plays Orlando Higgins, Keeper of the Gate to Fame, who has received a screenplay called “Woman of Sin” which he considers the worst work he has ever read. He has ordered it returned to the writer with as discouraging a note as could be devised. Then he receives a phone call from the author, one Daisy Marcher. She screeches at him over the phone that she has requested her screenplay be returned to her – since she has not received any word from the Orlando Higgins Agency, she considers the organization to be peopled by fools, and she will not work with them – and she has not received it. He orders his secretary, Miss Flannigan (Tracey Roberts) to find the damned script and send it away. What Flannigan discovers is that, instead of sending the script back to Marcher, it has been forwarded to J.B. Cobb (Alan Reed), head of one of the largest studios in Hollywood. Not only does Cobb not consider the thing drivel, he thinks it is genius and demands that Orlando sell it to him. He is willing to go as high as $75,000. Orlando gasps a little, and says, “J.B., please be sensible. It isn’t worth $75,000!” (not exactly agent behavior). But Cobb insists and so Orlando tells Flannigan to get Daisy Marcher to the agency. He also vows that he will get her $100,000. But when he finally comes face to face with Daisy, he finds that she is just as disagreeable as she was on the phone, AND she is 9 years old!
Both stories deal with hard to reason with, thoroughly disagreeable females, but the first, despite the fact that Robinson and especially Hunt give excellent performances (Hunt is exceptional), has some hurdles to clear, and I don’t think that was dome successfully. You need to sympathize with somebody to get fully involved with the characters and their destiny, and an out-of-work actor who sponges off his daughter, and a daughter who chooses dissolution over success, are not sympathetic. Who to root for? Nobody.
On the other hand, Daisy Marcher is a wonderful creation, strident, rude, certain that only she has the answers. I agree, if she were a grown-up she would have no hold on the audience at all. But as a child she becomes the awful person that you root for. And on top of all that her second screenplay is about Pirates! And Daisy is played by the director’s daughter, Jenny Hecht. So to me the long life of the movie seems totally based on the performances of Marsha Hunt and Jenny Hecht.

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One Response to Actors and Sin (1952) – reviewed by George

  1. nita166 says:

    You know I think I want to give it a try. I won’t go out of my way to see it but I will watch it if it comes on. I’ll get back to ya. 🙂

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