Seven Sinners (1940)

Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Albert Dekker, Broderick Crawford,
Seven Sinners is a movie starring Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, and Albert Dekker. Banished from various U.S. protectorates in the Pacific, a saloon entertainer uses her femme-fatale charms to woo politicians, navy personnel,...
  • 6.8 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • John Meehan, Harry Tugend, Ladislas Fodor, László Vadnay, Writer:
  • Tay Garnett, Director:
  • Producer:

Trailer:

7 / 10

Island hopping

Bijou Blanche, a sort of chanteuse, provoked a riot, literally, everywhere in which she appears. When we first see her, she is arriving by ship to a place she is not exactly welcomed, she goes to the Seven Sinners club, where its owner doesn't have too many fond memories of Bijou, but she is a woman who will bring a lot of business his way. Ms. Blanche has the right amounts of sophistication, beauty and elegance that proves to be disarming for the men lucky enough to get her attention.

Bijou, who has a two-man entourage, Little Ned, and Sasha, soon discovers the American Navy, which has a presence in the island. It takes little before most of the sailors discover the mysterious beauty who can belt a song as well as play pool like a pro. Lt. Dan Brent, also falls under her spell, in spite of being the unofficial escort for the daughter of the man in command.

There are enough tensions in the air as a sinister Anthro, who wants Bijou for himself enters the picture. Anthro is a man who knows how to throw a knife as Tony, the owner of the club, can attest. Bijou has the kind of reaction men seem to have whenever she is around. One of the most fun brawls occurs at the Seven Sinners, but at the end, Bijou has her way, as it's always the case.

Directed with his usual style by Tay Garnett, the new DVD copy has an excellent quality since it is part of a newly released package featuring films of John Wayne. The great Marlene Dietrich is Bijou, a woman who knows what makes men tick. She kept reminding us of Destry, in that in both films she played saloon entertainers. A young, handsome John Wayne is perfect opposite Ms. Dietrich. Their chemistry is right.

The pleasure of watching this movie is watching an interesting supporting cast full of familiar faces. Broderick Crawford and Misha Auer play Little Ned Finnegan and Sasha, who are devoted to Bijou. Oskar Homolka is perfectly menacing and gives the film another dimension in the mystery surrounding his persona. Billy Gilbert also puts an appearance as Tony, the owner of the joint.

Not seen often these days, "Seven Sinners" is worth a look because of the amazing cast and the fun everyone seemed to be having, and of course, Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne at their best.

9 / 10

"Daddy, Buy Me That"

After Marlene Dietrich at a new studio, Universal, had made something of a comeback in Destry Rides Again, the studio was understandably looking for new properties to follow it up.

They certainly got one in Seven Sinners, a really great blend of satirical comedy and drama. Certainly Dietrich is no poor man's Sadie Thompson. One wonders why she never did her own version of Rain. She pokes fun at that type of character, but there is a skillful blend of both drama and satire in this film.

Stagecoach was done the year before and with it John Wayne finally joined the list of A players. Director Tay Garnett had Wayne in mind for this film, but Dietrich would have the final approval. The story goes he deliberately arranged for Dietrich to have lunch at the studio commissary at a time Wayne would be there. She took one look at Wayne who reminded her so much of former lover Gary Cooper, she said to Garnett in that Dietrich baritone, "Daddy, buy me that."

This is Dietrich's film, but there's enough action to satisfy any Wayne fan. Tay Garnett assembled a good supporting cast with good girl Anna Lee, Dietrich retainers Mischa Auer and Broderick Crawford, befuddled owner of the Seven Sinners Cafe Billy Gilbert, and the very sinister Oscar Homolka.

Up until All the King's Men, the part that Broderick Crawford played here was a typical part, the dumb lug who's the hero/heroine's friend. He does it well, but Crawford resented the typecasting. He was quoted as saying that while he never considered himself the world's greatest wit, he did resent playing half a one all the time back in the day. This was Crawford's only film with Wayne and that's interesting because both of them were heavy boozers.

Dietrich like in Destry Rides Again has two good songs to sing written by fellow German expatriate Frederick Hollander and Frank Loesser, I've Been in Love Before and The Man's in the Navy. She also sings I Can't Give You Anything But Love, one of the great standards back in the day.

Seven Sinners is classic Marlene Dietrich one of her most enjoyable films and John Wayne fans will like it also.

7 / 10

mainly for fans

Its fun and spunky enough, but it has the schizophrenic feel of a "B" film with "A-list" actors. It was made by Universal, which had taken a chance the year before, and cast Dietrich in "Destry Rides Again" following her inclusion in the famous "box-office poison" list. Wayne was just transitioning from shoestring Republic Pictures; he had made zillions of minor films, and his career was just starting to take off. Dietrich often seems to be in a different film altogether; the way she looks and acts goes way above what the material calls for - she was always extremely conscious of her "look" and image. Her musical numbers are fun, especially the awesome nightclub number in Navy uniform drag - who else could pull THAT one off so successfully!

10 / 10

Bijou and her men

Declared "box office poison" in the middle 1930s with such inept film figures as Katherine Hepburn and Fred Astaire (one would like to know what happened to the idiot that wrote the advertisement about "box office poison" in later years - did he find nobody listened to his opinions anymore?), Marlene Dietrich made a comeback in the late 1930s with DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, cementing it with SEVEN SINNERS and FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS. She proved quite adept at performing without her old "Svengali" director Joe Von Sternberg pulling the strings. Her stardom would survive intact until her retirement in the 1960s. Box office poison indeed!

Had Von Sternberg directed instead of Tay Garnett SEVEN SINNERS would have been somewhat like THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN. Concha, the heroine in THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN goes from man to man for her own benefit, not caring for any evil results that befall these men (in fact, she only seems to change at the end when she senses that she has lost Lionel Atwill's affections for good - it is a new experience and she is not crazy about it). Bijou is willing to use her sexual allure too, but unlike Concha she is not in control of the situation constantly. Concha rules the roost of the provincial town society she resides in (witness how she basically controls the Mayor of the town (Edward Everett Horton) about the matter of the duel between Atwill and Cesar Romero). Bijou finds she is not in control of the officials of the south sea islands she is living in. She is a notorious character, and can be thrown off islands at will.

Yet she does fascinate or control a good number of men - most notably John Wayne, a U.S. Navy officer who risks his career and future social marriage to Ann Lee for her. There are also Broderick Crawford and Mischa Auer, her two raffish protectors (Crawford a naval deserter and Auer a swindler and magician). There is her former employer Billy Gilbert, who rehires her despite misgivings (more about that later), and - most sinisterly, Oscar Homolka - a knife wielding criminal mob boss.

Homolka is ultimately quite a dangerous and bad guy, but he does have one running joke with Vince Barnett, the bartender at Gilbert's cafe. Barnett is a quiet, timid character of few words, but he does appreciate a joke. Every now and then Homolka makes some really nasty joke about what he'd do to Wayne or anyone else standing between him and Dietrich. Barnett starts laughing along with Homolka at the jokes, and at first Homolka is appreciating his own sense of humor to notice - then he does notice, and it makes him less happy. He's not there to entertain this idiot bartender. So each time he ends Barnett's laughing by throwing a stiletto next to his head. And Barnett does shut up...until the next time.

There is also one other - an exception to the rule of the manipulatable men in her life: Albert Dekker. Dekker was starting his interesting film career at this time. He had first gained notoriety playing Baron Geiger in the original stage version of Vicki Baum's GRAND HOTEL. Dekker was "Albert Van Dekker" when he essayed the role (opposite Sig Ruman as Preysling). Both were noted as first rate performers in the drama, but neither was brought to Hollywood for the film (John Barrymore and Wallace Beery playing the two roles in the movie). Ruman got the Hollywood nod first, but by 1939 Dekker was in Hollywood too. He soon was given some interesting parts - the twin brothers in AMONG THE LIVING and the evil scientist in DR. CYCLOPS being the best known.

His performance as the ship doctor in SEVEN SINNERS is interesting. He and Bijou hit it off, but he is not ready for commitment when the ship docks, but they part amicably. As a result, when the film ends and Bijou again is on board the ship, Dekker is available to replace Wayne as her permanent lover. It's a situation (by the way) that never reappears in any other Dietrich film: she usually ends with the hero, or ends alone.

The other men are besotted regarding Bijou, and it eventually leads to the final battle (nearly to the death) between Wayne and Homolka. But the most interesting (to me) is Gilbert. A hard working, and flustered, businessman - his role seems typical for Gilbert. He is forced to do things he knows are illegal or dangerous for Bijou because he does like her. But in the end, surprisingly, she shows she really cares for him too. Gilbert rarely had a dramatic moment in his films (he was such a good comic actor, nobody thought of him in dramatic parts). Here he is accidentally stabbed when the homicidal Homolka was aiming at Wayne in the final fight. Critically stabbed in his back, Gilbert is under a table when Dietrich comes over to him, and starts taking care of him and comforting him until the doctors can come. It too is a rather unusual moment for Dietrich, and one is glad that it was brought out in this fine movie.

10 / 10

Delicious satire of Sadie Thompson dramas

This rowdy South Seas romp is the high point of Marlene Dietrich's more user-friendly populist period: she plays "Bijou", a "singer" who gets deported from island after island because she innocently enflames both locals and sailors into brawling and destroying the nightclubs. Bijou values handsome guys, diamonds, and good friends, not to mention her wardrobe of feathers, flounces, silks, lace parasols, and even a sailor's uniform. As the object of Bijou's attention, John Wayne is at his freshest and most appealing, sheepishly bringing her armloads of orchids. The supporting cast is unusually deep: dense but loyal Broderick Crawford, sneaky Mischa Auer, menacing Oscar Homolka, perpetually befuddled Billy Gilbert, world-weary Albert Dekker, pretty Anna Lee. The lavish production includes sunny lighting and dynamic camera moves from Rudolph Mate. For once, director Tay Garnett gets it all right: the tropical atmosphere, the teasing romance, the broad comedy, the bittersweet edge [see Bijou's exchanges with the ship's doctor], plus four good musical numbers.