Following the release of Lizzie (1957) and The Woman in White (1948) earlier this spring, Warner Archive continues to feed my Eleanor Parker lady crush with another pair of new releases featuring the actress. This time around, she travels to exotic locations in The Seventh Sin (1957) and Valley of the Kings (1954).
MGM production The Seventh Sin is an adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel The Painted Veil. It made its first screen appearance in 1934 as a Greta Garbo vehicle. In this newer version Parker is Carol Carwin, an empty-hearted socialite in a loveless marriage with bacteriologist Dr. Walter Carwin. When her husband catches her in an affair with a notorious womanizer, and he makes her an ultimatum. If she cannot convince her lover to divorce and marry her, he insists she join him in rural China, where he will face the dangerous task of tackling an intense cholera epidemic.
Much to her heartbreak, Carol is rejected, the affair meaning more to her than her partner. Faced otherwise with the humiliation of a very public divorce scandal, she agrees to go on the trip, essentially consenting to a suicide pact. Life in China moves these two in unexpected ways though, and the emotionally wounded spouses find some redemption.
The first part of The Seventh Sin did little to move me. A fancier, slicker, more lavish production than its predecessor, it was pretty to look at, but little else. Every scene went on longer than it should have, with too much dialogue wedged in where a strong image or gesture would have sufficed. For a while there, I wondered if this film's only saving grace would be the opportunity to admire Parker.
Things pick up once the action moves to China though. This is mostly because George Sanders enters the picture as Englishman Tim Waddington, who, delighted to be in the company of a beautiful lady, decides to make Carol feel at home. What follows is one of the most enjoyable platonic relationships I have seen in the movies. For all the heat of the title, it is these two who give the movie heart, finding great chemistry and ease together.
It's also amusing to see Sanders play a good guy. When he flashes a goofy grin, it almost doesn't look like him. Because of the kinship he finds with Parker, this film gathers steam as it goes. The humanity their friendship reveals in Parker lends more poignancy to her relationship with her husband, ending in a closing scene of unexpected emotional power.
This is a nice film print, with a clean, sharp black and white image.
Trumpeted in the credits as "Suggested by Historical Data in 'Gods Graves and Scholars' by C.W. Ceram'", and presented in blazing Technicolor, Valley of the Kings lives up to the suggested grandeur of its source material, and is the most successful of the two releases.
Parker is Ann Mercedes, the daughter of a deceased explorer, who wishes to finish the research he began in Egypt. Elegant, but tough, she is remarkably independent for a woman of 1900, one of the luxuries of wealth. She is paired with rough-mannered, but hunky archeologist Mark Brandon (Robert Taylor) who has the knowledge and savvy to help her on her quest.
This was the first large-scale Hollywood production to be filmed in Egypt, and as expected, there is a bit of racial ickiness. I also found myself occasionally distracted by the extras, wondering if there were any real Africans, or if they were all Mexicans as they appeared to be. Oh Hollywood.
It's obvious from the beginning that Ann and Mark are intrigued by each other. I like the way the initial sparks between them flicker subtly but surely, and that you don't have to deal with them hating each other first. You don't normally get a light touch like that between romantic leads in a big production, but there is a real tenderness between the two, and a satisfying intellectual connection, that develops into a passion which fits the scope of their surroundings. Ann's attractive husband shows up early on, but he talks funny, so you know they're going to get rid of him somehow.
The towering sets and visual effects are magnificent, often dwarfing the actors as they stride through them. There is an overall feeling of majesty to the production, but the little things get attention too, like this sturdy rabbit who gets a few moments of screen time during, and after a violent sand storm:
I also loved the way the action scenes were approached. There's a real weight to a strenuous sword fight; you can almost feel the "qwack" of the metal. Another fight scene was a lot more intense because of the perilous place where it was staged. While there were spots where the action slowed down to almost too much of a crawl, for the most part this an excellent, well-paced action-adventure epic.
The print has a soft look, but is essentially clean and the colors are gorgeous. I can see how a restoration would really make this film pop.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.