Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Sinners' Holiday (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

James Cagney made his film debut in SINNERS' HOLIDAY (1930), released this month by the Warner Archive.

SINNER'S HOLIDAY was also one of the very first films in Joan Blondell's filmography. Both actors had starred on Broadway in the short-lived PENNY ARCADE in the spring of 1930, then came to Hollywood to reprise their roles in the film version, retitled SINNER'S HOLIDAY and released in October of that year.

This rough-edged depiction of carnival life would make an interesting double bill paired with the carnival film NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) -- particularly as both films starred Blondell, filmed 17 years apart.

The rather nasty Ma Delano (Lucille LaVerne) runs a penny arcade. Her son Harry (Cagney) gets mixed up with Mitch (Warren Hymer), who runs an illegal booze business, and late one night Harry kills Mitch.

Harry persuades his girlfriend Myrtle (Blondell) to provide an alibi, and he and his mother, who knows the truth, are happy to see carny worker Angel (Grant Withers) arrested for the murder. The only problem in their plan is that Harry's sweet sister Jennie (Evalyn Knapp) loves Angel -- and she saw Harry commit the murder.

The movie, directed by John G. Adolfi, is only moderately entertaining, but it successfully conveys a rough carnival atmosphere, and Cagney and Blondell's charisma wakes the film up in fits and starts. It's only 60 minutes long so the plot moves along quickly enough to keep it reasonably interesting. Fans of Cagney and Blondell will want to check it out in view of its significant place in their long careers.

Aside from foreshadowing Blondell's later role in the more intense carnival film NIGHTMARE ALLEY, SINNERS' HOLIDAY is also the first film in which Cagney is strangely obsessed with his mother, as he famously was in WHITE HEAT (1949).

An interesting footnote regarding leading man Grant Withers is that early in 1930, the year this film was made, he eloped with 17-year-old Loretta Young. Their marriage was annulled soon after.

The print on the Warner Archive DVD looks on the "old" side, only in the sense it's not a razor-sharp, shimmering print. It's a film from 1930, and it looks like it. The picture and sound are otherwise in fine shape. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger KC said...

I like connection you made with NIGHTMARE ALLEY. That would be a fantastic double feature. I agree that this flick would be nothing special without Cagney and Blondell. That said, I found it more entertaining than I expected and Lucille LaVerne fascinated me! Loved the tidbit about Grant Withers and Loretta Young. I knew that name sounded familiar for some reason besides his acting.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, KC! I was so intrigued with Blondell in basically the same setting, a good number of years apart. I'm glad we were able to review this film the same week and compare notes.

Best wishes,

7:57 PM  

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