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  Seven Sinners Explain A Marlene
Year: 1940
Director: Tay Garnett
Stars: Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Albert Dekker, Broderick Crawford, Anna Lee, Mischa Auer, Billy Gilbert, Richard Carle, Samuel S. Hinds, Oskar Homolka, Reginald Denny, Vince Barnett, Herbert Rawlinson, James Craig, William Bakewell, Antonio Moreno
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bijou (Marlene Dietrich) is a woman with both a history and a reputation, a nightclub singer who has a habit of starting incredibly destructive barroom brawls wherever she performs. Not every night, but her purring sexuality sets off something unbridled in men, and before you know it, in whatever club she is singing in, eventually someone is going to get a chair smashed over their head. So it was tonight when on a South Seas island where she has been making an impromptu tour, it all kicked off and destruction was wreaked and fists flew, so once again she is ordered off the territory by the authorities. She may comply, but she knows she will always find somewhere where she is wanted, and a man ready to bewitch...

Such was the overwhelming power of Marlene Dietrich, which beguiled and bewildered a host of males from the late nineteen-twenties onwards, gathering a legion of fans across the world for whom she was the epitome of sophisticated womanhood. She could be world-weary like Greta Garbo, or playful like Claudette Colbert, or classy like Ingrid Bergman, but she was always very much herself, the independent fraulein with the mysterious allure collecting a string of lovers throughout her existence who was more than capable of standing up for herself and threw society's expectations and restrictions back in its faces. Hers was a classic persona, arguably the result of more than her own crafting, that now seems to belong to another era.

Just watch her here in Seven Sinners, a conscious effort to cash in on her previous movie, Destry Rides Again, where she had defied her critics and scored a huge blockbuster hit thanks to canny choosing of material and sheer star power. Obviously Universal wanted more of the same, so re-recruited some of the same talent as well as Marlene (including the past master at eccentric Europeans, Mischa Auer) and set them to work on reviving the short memories of the public who had flocked to watch Destry. Evidently wanting to capitalise on her range, Dietrich was not only given the songs and comedy to perform, but also the drama, as her character's romantic woes caught up with her - she even gets slapped around at one point, which did not fit in with what was expected of her accustomed roles.

But mostly she smouldered and looked amused at a private joke, decked out in an array of remarkable outfits as her co-stars lusted after her, both on the screen and, if the rumours were true, behind the camera too. Certainly the big lug from the passing Navy who fell for her in the plot was a star on the up and was much enamoured: none other than all-American boy John Wayne, who could not resist that Old World attraction. You imagine he was putty in Marlene's hands, and she certainly acted him off the screen though so did most of the cast, an assembly of larger than life character actors like Broderick Crawford and Billy Gilbert, including Oskar Homolka as the bad guy, proving even he was young once. The leading lady got to sing as part of the nightclub act and offered her rendition of that old standard I Can't Give You Anything But Love which she assuredly did justice to, but mostly this was one of those Golden Age melodramas located in a studio passing for an exotic locale which provided work for many a heavily-accented European actress to build their popularity, and maybe, as here, have some fun with it. Music by Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner.

[The BFI Blu-ray box set Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-42 features Seven Sinners, The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh and these extras:

High Definition transfers of all four films
Seven Sinners feature commentary by film historian David Del Valle and screenwriter C Courtney Joyner
The Flame of New Orleans feature commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and actor and film historian Rutanya Alda
The Spoilers feature commentary by film historian Toby Roan
Pittsburgh feature commentary by critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson
Music and effects tracks for The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh
Galleries
60-page book featuring newly commissioned essays by Sarah Wood, Pamela Hutchinson, So Mayer, Ellen Cheshire, Katy McGahan and Phillip Kemp
Limited to 4,000 copies.

Released 25th January 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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