For Reel

The Sin Ship (1931)
April 4, 2014, 12:24 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Louis Wolheim
3.5 Stars
The Sin ShipThe Sin Ship marks the last ever screen appearance of the wonderful Louis Wolheim, an incomparable screen presence whose physical menace could be met by an accessible sensitivity on the few occasions when the part called for it. Here, he begins the film as a familiar brute–he’s genuinely terrifying in an early moment, as if his character were a continuation of the deplorable villain he played in The Ship from Shanghai. In actuality, there is beauty behind the beast, and soon he begins to show his capacity for affection in addition to revealing his long-gestating sadness. The transition comes when he falls for “Frisco” Kitty (Mary Astor), a gun moll who fools him that she and the man she is traveling with are minister and wife rather than criminals. As unlikely as the developing romance is on a superficial level, Astor was a sophisticated performer who makes you believe that what is initially little more than pity for Wolheim evolves into something tangibly romantic. Wolheim directed the picture and, even if much of the staging is rather milquetoast–extended chunks of conversation play out in dreary long takes–there are some wonderful visuals near the end, credited to the talented cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. In these few moments, filled with high-contrast, gauzy images and a likable sap of a brute aboard a ship, The Sin Ship recalls Jean Vigo’s masterpiece L’Atalante.

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