THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (Film Detective Blu Ray and DVD. July 29,2020) Film original release December 13,1933(US). Produced by Majestic Pictures. Crime /Drama. B&W. 65 minutes. With 20 Minutes of Special Features. Blu-Ray $24.99. DVD $19.99. https://www.moviezyng.com/the-sin-of-nora-moran-bluray-dvd-zita-johann/810044715644
THE SIN OF NORA MORAN is a pre-code above average programmer probably mostly known for it’s beautiful poster by Alberto Vargas. The beautiful artwork really has nothing to do with the film, but oh does it draw your interest.
That said, THE SIN OF NORA MORAN is an entertaining drama from the early 1930s. At times, while watching it, I kept thinking of I WANT TO LIVE (U.A.,1958). The film is told in flashback form to tell the tragic story of Nora, played by Broadway actress Zita Johann. This was one of the seven films that she made between 1931-34, the best known being THE MUMMY (Universal,1932).
Nora ‘s early life was filled with tragedy, so when the star struck woman gets the chance to join the circus as part of a lion taming act for Paulino (John Miljan) she accepts. Paulino is a sadistic bastard, whose act it seems to consist of whipping and even punching a lion! It is no surprise then that Paulino is not above raping the poor woman. She survives and goes onto becoming a dancer in a small night club. There, she meets D.A. John Grant (Alan Dinehart). Things look like they are going better for her at last. Alas, it was not to be. It seems that Nora will die because of love.
The film is very daring for the period, with a woman who seems to be suffering from the aftereffects of the sexual attack upon her. Add to that, the unique jumping from present to past and back again in telling her story is quite unique. It had been done before (Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, Triangle, 1916) but very rarely, and I cannot recall any other sound films of that period doing so. The Griffith connection continues with the casting of with Griffith regular Henry B Walthall as Father Ryan, as well as Johann herself who appeared in THE STRUGGLE (U.A. ,1931).
Writer Willis Maxwell Goodhue had written several Broadway shows, mostly comedies. The film claims to have been based upon a Broadway play, but I can find no record of it playing upon the Great White Way. I suspect it is based upon an unproduced script of his called “Burnt Offering”. Filmed under the title of THE WOMAN IN THE CHAIR, its publicity claimed that it took five months to make the picture, a claim that I find a bit hard to believe. KING KONG (RKO,1933) took EIGHT MONTHS to make, and that was due to its extensive effects.
Majestic Pictures was a poverty row studio that was active from 1930 until 1935, when it and several other studios were absorbed into Republic Pictures. During their time, they produced THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), perhaps their best-known picture, as well as THE SCARLET LETTER (1934). Larry Darmour, the founder of Majestic, had begun releasing the Mickey McGuire shorts in 1927, starring an incredibly young Mickey Rooney. After Majestic folded, Darmour went on to take over Columbia Pictures serial unit from 1938 until her passing in 1942.
Producer /Director Phil Goldstone worked in the industry from 1920 until 1942. His best-known contributions were as a producer for both WHITE ZOMBIE (uncredited; Halperin/ UA ,1932) and THE VAMPIRE BAT (Majestic ,1933). His most infamous title as director seems to be DAMAGED GOODS (Grand National,1937), a film about sexually transmitted diseases.
It is therefore quite surprising to witness his adventurous camera set ups and editing tricks of playing around with the timeline as he does. A scene near the end reminds one of Hitchcock whereas we see from a character’s point of view as he commits suicide by pistol (though not as successfully as the Master, it is indeed impressive for a small indie of the period).
The film fell into obscurity for many decades until film historian and filmmaker Sam Sherman (editor of the late lamented SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED ,and head of Independent International Pictures) was shown a 16mm print of THE SIN OF NORA MORAN and became fascinated with the picture. He even went so far as to get a print for himself and tracked down the lead Zita Johann, who was at that point already retired and living in West Nyack NY. She herself did not care for the film’s playing with time, preferring the original straightforward narrative that had been planned. Over time she began to appreciate the ambition of style that the film possessed. She even briefly came out of retirement to appear in a cameo in one of Sherman’s I.I. titles. Sherman also was able to repackage the film under a new title for tv distribution, VOICE FROM THE GRAVE, making it sound more like a horror film.
This release from The Film Detective is the definitive version of this film. Unlike other prints found elsewhere, the film is incredibly sharp and clear. The cinematography by Ira H. Morgan (who also filmed THE DEVIL BAT and DAMAGED GOODS, as well as working on Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES(!) (U.A.,1936) is as clear as many a major production of the era, with strong blacks and clear levels of gray shadings. The mono sound has been cleaned up and was as far as I noticed crackle free. Dialogue, sound effects and music did not blur or overpower each other as many indie films of the period do.
There are optional English subtitles for the dialogue.
The music by Heinz Roemheld is uncredited. In fact ,it seems that for most of his career, his music was written for stock music libraries ,being used into films into the 1960s. One of the films he did receive screen credit was for THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (U.A.,1957) . The unusual thing about his score here is that it is used throughout the films entire 65 minutes running time.
Many films of that period were still coping with sound, and many used music sparingly, if at all. KING KONG (RKO,1933) was a major film that same year that showed a running musical score could work with a film’s storytelling.
Roemheld’s score is no where near as memorable as Max Steiner’s classic compositions. Indeed, at times it sounds a bit like music one would hear in an Our Gang short of the period, especially in a sentimental moment. At other times, it is quite sparse and effective.
As a bonus on the disc, Ballyhoo Pictures put together a nice 20 minute documentary, ‘The Mysterious Life of Zita Johann” (“mysterious” being misspelled on the back cover of the case )wherein Samuel M. Sherman talks about Johann and his connection to the film and the actress.
Inside the case there is also a booklet written by Sherman and illustrated with some rare movie clippings, lobby cards and photos.
All and all, a nice little collectable of a by gone era of filmmaking.
If that is not enough, for the limited edition blu ray release (1500 copies) ,within one of the packages will be a special certificate for one lucky purchaser to win a free 27” x 41” hand pulled lithograph of the Vargas poster , printed on Coventry 100% cotton archival paper with a certificate of authenticity .
No, it was NOT me.
the original Vargas sketch (here in a Lithograph) was more undraped
Kudos for all involved for the extraordinary amount of care given to this picture. Would that every movie be given this kind of treatment.
Check out THE FILM DETECTIVE’s gorgeous print of THE VAMPIRE BAT, which replicates the brief hand colored sequences that were used in certain release prints of the time. https://www.amazon.com/Vampire-Bat-Special-Detective-Restored/dp/B01LTIAUJ2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490377335&sr=8-1&keywords=vampire+bat+the+film+detective+restored+version
-Kevin G Shinnick
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