Saturday, April 11, 2015

Her Sister's Secret

Some months back, TCM had a night of Edgar G. Ulmer movies including a documentary about his life and work. One of the movies that ran that evening was Her Sister's Secret. It's on again tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM on TCM, and is worth a watch if you didn't see the showing several months ago.

Nancy Coleman plays Toni, an unmarried woman living in New Orleans with her faily well-off but ailing father (Henry Stephenson). Toni spends her days the way the idle well-off people did in movies in those days, even though there's a war on. It's Mardi Gras now, however, so who cares about that war going on? Toni is celebrating with everybody else at Pepe's cafe, Pepe being played by Felix Bressart. It's at Pepe's that Toni meets Dick (Phillip Reed), a soldier on furlough. As often happens, these things turn into quickie romances, this one even though Toni is wearing a mask what with it being Mardi Gras. The two make an agreement to meet again the next day at Pepe's, but Dick's furlough is called off, and due to a mix up, neither of them is able to get information to the other about it.\

That alone could make for a nice plot if handled correctly, like in Before Sunrise. But that's not the story here. Toni eventually finds out that during that one night she spent with the soldier, she got knocked up! And the two of them didn't even have a quickie wedding, so Toni is pregnant out of wedlock! What's a young woman of a putatively proper class to do? Thankfully, Toni has a sister Renee (Margaret Lindsay) who agrees to take her someplace out west the way Bette Davis and Mary Astor did in The Great Lie where she can have the child without anybody knowing who Toni really is. After that, however, comes the difficult part. Toni is unmarried, and Renee has a hasband Bill (Regis Toomey) who could more than amply take care of the baby. So after the baby is born, the plan is for Toni to give the baby up for adoption to Renee and Bill, and never make mention of it again.

That's gotta be tough for Toni, but she still has her father to take care of, at least until he dies. Eventually, though, you know that she's going to want to see her own biological son, and really, who can blame her? Renee and Bill live up in New York, so after Dad dies, Toni goes there (you'd think Toni would have seen the kid at Dad's funeral). She sees the kid in a park with a nanny, and of course the kid has no idea who Toni is and is terrified of this strange lady. It's sad for Toni, but it's to be expected. Unexpected is that Dick survives the war, and he's looking for Toni, not knowing of course that he fathered a child by Toni.

Her Sister's Secret is an interesting movie that has a lot of what you might expect in 1940s melodrama. That having been said, it's still well worth a watch. Whether that's because it's a look back at thoroughly different cultural mores, or because it's interesting to see how Edgat G. Ulmer decided to tackle a melodrama, I'm not sure. But either way, the material winds up slightly fascinating. The ending is a bit pat, although the strictures of the Production Code probably had a lot to do with that.

TCM lists Her Sister's Secret as being available from the TCM Shop, while IMDb duggests it's not available at Amazon.

No comments: