Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Her Sister's Secret (1946) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

Here's another in my series of posts looking back at individual movie screenings at this spring's TCM Classic Film Festival!

One of the films I most enjoyed at this year's festival was HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946), a little-known movie from the Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). The movie was screened in a 35mm print, preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

I love to discover films such as this, and happily for those who weren't able to attend the festival, Turner Classic Movies will be showing the movie on October 21, 2014. It's part of a prime-time tribute to director Edgar G. Ulmer, which will also include a 2005 documentary on Ulmer, EDGAR G. ULMER - THE MAN OFF-SCREEN.

The other Ulmer films screening on TCM that night are Marsha Hunt in CARNEGIE HALL (1947), Paul Langton and Barbara Payton in the oddball MURDER IS MY BEAT (1955), Tom Neal and Ann Savage in the low-budget noir classic DETOUR (1945), and Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, and James Griffith in THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN (1960).

HER SISTER'S SECRET is fairly unusual for the mid '40s insofar as it deals at length with unwed pregnancy. There were other films made on this topic in that era, such as TO EACH HIS OWN (1946), but it was still fairly daring subject matter for the Production Code era. Anne Green's screenplay was loosely based on a novel by Gina Kaus titled DARK ANGEL.

The title HER SISTER'S SECRET has a double meaning, referring to one sister's secret pregnancy and the other's secret adoption of the baby.

Toni DuBois (Nancy Coleman) falls in love with soldier Dick Connolly (Phillip Reed) during a WWII-era Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, but when he ships out and they lose contact she finds herself in a desperate situation, alone, unmarried, and pregnant.

Toni's sister Renee (Margaret Lindsay) is happily married to Bill (Regis Toomey), but they are sadly childless. While Bill is away on military service, Toni secretly gives birth, and the sisters agree to pass the baby off as Renee's. Bill is told that little Billy (Winston Severn) is his son, although it eventually turns out that the kindly man isn't quite as unobservant as the sisters believe.

After giving the baby to Renee Toni stays away for an extended period, but as time passes she can't resist the chance to see the child, triggering territorial conflict with Renee. And when Dick unexpectedly reenters the picture, things become even more complicated.

HER SISTER'S SECRET has many positive attributes, including fine performances and gleaming black and white photography by Franz (Frank) Planer. The film has a great sense of mood, whether the setting is a masked party in New Orleans or a comfortable apartment in New York. Coleman and Lindsay are always very watchable actresses, and this film is no exception. The movie also offers a small but attractive role for Regis Toomey as the likeable Bill.
The film was introduced at the TCM Festival by the director's daughter, Arianne Ulmer Cipes, and Jan-Christopher Horak of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Horak was quoted in Noah Isenberg's book EDGAR G. ULMER: A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS as saying "For a B-picture, the film demonstrated an unusual sensitivity for the complexity of human emotions, for the giddiness of great love affairs, for the difficulty of motherhood, and for the barely repressed jealousy between siblings." As the Ulmer book notes, HER SISTER'S SECRET is considered by some critics to anticipate Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas, which included another title I saw at the festival, WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956).

Winston Severn, who played the little boy, was part of a large acting family. (His brother Clifford passed away just a few weeks ago.) Winston posted a comment on IMDb with his vague memories of making the film; he was just three years old at the time!

The supporting cast of HER SISTER'S SECRET includes Felix Bressart, Henry Stephenson, and Fritz Feld. Members of the Unofficial Bess Flowers Fan Club may be interested to know that this is one of her credits which is not included at IMDb; she can be spotted dancing at a restaurant.

I hope my readers will make it a point to check out this interesting and rather unusual film on TCM this October!

March 2015 Update: Here is an account of seeing the film again at the UCLA Festival of Preservation, with Jan-Christopher Horak, Arianne Ulmer Cipes, and Winston Severn in attendance.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Very good piece, Laura, so sensitive to this movie's qualities.

I love this film and it is the one I wish I had gone to the TCM festival to see--it probably would have been easier to get in too. I've never seen a 35 print and if UCLA shows it will go but meantime will probably watch it on that Edgar G. Ulmer night in October as I haven't seen it in a long time.

I've seen most of Ulmer's films and almost always like his work but I rate this easily one of his half dozen best. It's all that you say, an imaginative piece of cinema in realization and insightful for characters and relationships too.

Ulmer was very comfortable with low budgets and they did not inhibit his gifts at all. Since I believe this blog always supports the position that B movies (or even those further down the grade) are never necessarily lesser I know I don't need to stress this point here. Movies are good when there is someone talented to make them and this one is well worth seeking out for any classic movie lover.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, thanks so much for your feedback and taking the time to share your own appreciation for this movie and Ulmer. I'm very glad that TCM is showing HER SISTER'S SECRET (and join you in hoping UCLA shows it sometime, as I'd love to watch the 35mm print again).

I certainly agree with what you say about B films -- sometimes they turn out to be the most interesting of all! Case in point: I'm watching FIVE CAME BACK for the first time since I saw it in the RKO series at LACMA as a kid in the late '70s. I appreciate it even more now that I know the cast so well. What a great movie.

Best wishes,

4:45 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for the heads-up. I've not seen this one, and I'll look forward to it.

4:05 AM  
Blogger KC said...

I'm trying to remember why I missed this at the festival. It seems like the kind of movie I'd want to see, so I must have gone to a live appearance to miss it. Good thing I'll get another chance! Thanks for the tip on the IMDB comment. That is so cool!

5:22 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jacqueline, I think you'd enjoy it on multiple levels, not only as a good movie but a historical look back at how Hollywood dealt with unwed parenthood.

KC, I went back and checked the schedule -- were you at THE WOMEN? Seems like a lot of people were either at that or SORCEROR when HIS SISTER'S SECRET was playing. :)

Best wishes,

10:06 AM  
Blogger TO said...

One of the striking things about the costuming of this movie is the riot of hats the actresses wear. Wonderful!

6:00 PM  

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