Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sinners' Holiday

TCM is honoring Joan Blondell today in Summer Under the Stars, and prime time is kicking off with one of her earliest movies, Sinners' Holiday, at 8:00 PM. Although it's Blondell's day on TCM, this is really a movie to watch for another of the supporting players, James Cagney.

Cagney and Blondell are both a ways down the credits, as the leads are small-time conman and handyman Angel Harrigan (Grant Withers) and his girlfriend Jennie Delano (Evalyn Knapp). Cagney plays Jennie's brother Harry, and Blondell plays Harry's girlfriend Myrtle. The Delanos are a family running one of the concessions at an amusement park that seems a lot like Coney Island. (Unfortunately, I haven't seen the movie since Cagney was TCM's Star of the Month years back, so I don't remember whether the place is actually named.) It's 1930, which means the Prohibition era, and Harry is part of a booze-running racket run by Mitch (Warren Hymer), although Harry is rapidly moving up the ladder. There's a dispute over where the money the racket is bringing in is going, and when you either have to shoot somebody or get shot yourself, Harry decides that it's better to do the shooting.

Thankfully for Harry, he's got a family willing to stand up for him. Mother (Lucille La Verne) never liked the idea of her kids getting involved in running alcohol. But she'll be damned if any of her kids is going to prison. So she needs a fall guy, and Angel would be the perfect man for the job. Poor Jennie, but Ma thinks Angel is no good for her, and she can do better. However, Jennie also witnessed the crime, and knows fully well her brother is guilty....

Sinners' Holiday was based on a Broadway play that failed thanks to having been released just as the Depression was hitting. As such, and because this was also still pretty early in the talking picture era, Sinners' Holiday has the look of a filmed stage play. But Cagney and Blondell (who were both in the original stage play) are both quite good in what was the first film either of them made. It's creaky, but if you like Cagney or Blondell, I think you'll like this picture. It doesn't seem to be released on DVD, however, so tonight's TCM showing is one of your rare chances to catch it.

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