Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sin Takes a Holiday (1930)

Sin Takes a Holiday belongs to that very peculiar genre, the pre-code romantic comedy. What’s peculiar about the movies of this genre is that they rely much more on being risque than on being actually funny. In that respect the Production Code did Hollywood a big favour by forcing writers to work harder to make their scripts funny rather than shocking.

As this genre goes Sin Takes a Holiday, released in 1930, isn’t too bad. It is at least gently amusing at times and it certainly benefits from some fine performances.

Wealthy young New York attorney Gaylord Stanton (Kenneth MacKenna) finds himself in an extremely perilous situation. You see he’s unmarried and his mistress Grace (Rita La Roy) wants to get married. Given that he’s unmarried there’s a very real danger he could end up marrying her. And that would interfere dreadfully with his carefree and cheerfully immoral lifestyle.

Grace is married herself but that is a very minor obstacle. She’s always getting married but the marriages always end in divorce within six months and she’s already filed for divorce from her current husband.

Gaylord is terrified. There’s no surer way to social death than a successful marriage. His friends share his concern. They’re all equally aware of the hazard of marriage and some have actually succumbed. Reggie Durant (Basil Rathbone) has managed successfully to avoid marriage thus far but Sheridan (John Roche) points out that as long as a man is single the danger is always there. Sheridan is the only one who has found an answer to his problem. He is married but neither he nor his wife allow that to interfere with their love life. He tells Gaylord that the great advantage of such a sham marriage is that it protects one from the danger of a real marriage.

This gives Gaylord a splendid idea. He will avoid the impending danger of marriage to Grace by marrying someone else. He decides that his secretary Miss Brenner (Constance Bennett) is as good a choice as any. He explains to her that of course this will not be a real marriage, merely a social convenience and a wise precaution. Sylvia Brenner is sceptical but allows herself to be persuaded.

They get married that very day and that night Gaylord ships her off to Paris. The further away a wife is the better according to Gaylord and his friends. By pure coincidence Reggie Durant just happens to be on the same ship to Paris. He is charmed by the newly married Mrs Stanton although he has entirely forgotten that they have already met. When Sylvia was a mere secretary neither Gaylord not any of his friends ever noticed her. But now Reggie Durant has most certainly noticed her.

Sylvia and Reggie enjoy a most pleasant romance in Paris. They attract the attention of the gossip columnists but Gaylord Stanton is not at all concerned. He’s happy that his new wife is enjoying herself.

Of course such a blissful situation cannot last forever, and eventually Reggie discovers, to his considerable amazement, that he is in love with Sylvia. He wants to marry her. He doesn’t want the kind of marriage she and Gaylord Stanton have. He wants an actual marriage, the kind where a man and a woman actually live under the same roof and grow old together.

The one fly in the ointment is that Sylvia is in love with her husband and always has been, right from the time she started working for him. Now she has a man who offers her a real marriage but he’s not the man she wants. The usual and expected complications ensue while Sylvia, Gaylord and Reggie all try to figure out what they actually want.

The plot is of course entirely predictable right from the start, but that’s the way romantic comedies work. We always know that love will triumph and the right girl and the right boy will end up together. Horace Jackson’s screenplay follows this formula without adding anything of particular interest. As with the majority of pre-code romantic comedies actual laughs are extremely scarce. This might well have proved to be a fatal weakness but Constance Bennett’s charming performance just about saves the picture. She gets some help in this respect from Basil Rathbone who manages to make a potentially tedious character sympathetic and interesting. Kenneth MacKenna as Gaylord is reasonably good as well.

Director Paul L. Stein had a lengthy and prolific career without making any appreciable impact. His handling of this picture is competent with a couple of reasonably effective sequences although one suspects that they are effective as a result of good editing by Daniel Mandell (who had a long and distinguished career as a film editor) rather than Stein’s directing.

The Alpha Video DVD release is a pleasant surprise. This is actually a fairly decent print, and it’s certainly vastly superior to Alpha Video’s usual standards.

Sin Takes a Holiday has more than its fair share of pre-code risque content and the strong cast makes the 81 minutes of this movie a fairly enjoyable experience. This is an above-average pre-code offering and the low price and the unexpectedly acceptable quality of the DVD makes it a worthwhile purchase for pre-code enthusiasts.

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