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Saturday Night Cinema: Ben Hecht’s Actors and Sin

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema selection features GR favorite — Ben Hecht. It’s a two-part story — the first is about a washed-up Broadway actor and his tough daughter, who is a bigger star than he is; the second is about a literary agent whose newest client — a nine-year-old boy — is the author of an unique book.

Actor’s Blood and Woman of Sin (1952)

The working titles of this film were Duet and Actor’s Blood. The picture consists of two sections, entitled Actor’s Blood and Woman of Sin, each based on a screen story written by Ben Hecht. Although the reviews refer to the film as Actors Blood, the onscreen title card reads: Ben Hecht’s ACTOR’S blood AND woman of SIN. Hecht’s onscreen credit reads: “Written, Produced and Directed by Ben Hecht.” Lee Garmes’ onscreen credit reads: “Co-Director Lee Garmes, and Director of Photography.” The opening cast credits list Edward G. Robinson, Eddie Albert and Marsha Hunt above the title, with full cast lists preceding each section of the film as shown above. (TCM)

The Actor’s Blood section begins with a voice-over narration by Dan O’Herlihy as “Alfred O’Shea,” describing “a tale that could happen only in the city of New York, and only amongst people of the theater.” The Woman of Sin section starts with a voice-over narration by Hecht that describes the “mad” days of Hollywood’s past in which the irresponsible, shyster agents reigned supreme. Hecht’s daughter Jenny starred as “Daisy Marchand.” Specific Los Angeles locations, such as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Brown Derby, are shown, and real-life Hollywood moguls such as David O. Selznick are mentioned.

According to a July 1952 Los Angeles Mirror article, the Beverly Canon theater in Beverly Hills booked Actor’s and Sin after the film received rave reviews in New York. After viewing the print, however, the exhibitors feared that Los Angeles audiences would be offended by the picture’s ridiculing of Hollywood, and cancelled the engagement. Hecht then filed a suit requesting $250,000 in damages or an injunction to compel the Canon to show his film. The Los Angeles Mirror article further states that United Artists and Sid Kuller filed a similar suit. Later in Jul, Variety reported that Hecht conducted a radio interview in which he blasted the Canon and Hollywood for their inability to make fun of themselves.

‘Actors and Sin,’ Ben Hecht Picture, Opens at Park Ave. — War Movie at Criterion; At the Park Ave.

As a seasoned Broadway-to-Hollywood participant in what has come to be known as the Rat Race, Ben Hecht has made a formidable career out of lacquering the lily with one hand and shredding it with the other, often simultaneously. “Actors and Sin,” the United Artists release at the Park Avenue, packages two featurettes written, directed and produced by Mr. Hecht from two of his short stories, an almost reverential close-up of a stage actor’s senile egomania and an atomically conceived blast at front-office intellectuality in the film factories.”Actor’s Blood” is a stiff, glum and narcissistic tale of a retired actor’s devotion to his daughter, a neurotic, dimming Broadway star who commits suicide. Creating his own ripest role, the old man unsuccessfully camouflages the tragedy as murder, to the uneasiness of the girl’s fair-weather associates, and, once again in the limelight, destroys himself.

Edward G. Robinson and Marsha Hunt, the leads, bleakly intone some of Mr. Hecht’s most sonorous dialogue. The others, including Dan O’Herlihy, Rudolph Anders and Alice Key, wander in and out rather sheepishly and the whole episode flounders midway between a conversational seance and straight farce.

“Woman of Sin” is straight farce, with an idea so devastatingly impudent that only Mr. Hecht could claim it. Here he casts a surgical eye and blistering dialogue at a particularly vulnerable Hollywood underbelly, the writing side, in a madcap case history of one scenario, a sex-scented work of epic proportions, which has drifted into the office of a galvanic agent, Eddie Albert.Tugged and haggled over, “Woman of Sin” emerges from the sound stages as the major production of the year. There then emerges the author, a monosyllabic blonde of nine years. Mr. Albert’s frenzied efforts to hide the identity of his client, the ensuing confusion and the hilarious irony of the film’s première neither spare the child, who assuredly knows her rights, nor spoil Mr. Hecht’s flaying rod. And while the obvious low budget practically confines the fun to a corner angle, Mr. Albert, Tracey Roberts, as his secretary; Alan Reed, as a low-brow executive deity, and Jody Gilbert, as the child’s lackadaisical mother, lend their most to Mr. Hecht’s brazen drollery. As the unabashed author, his little daughter, Jenny, gives a fine, firm account of herself, emoting with the assurance of an Ethel Barrymore.

At the Park Ave.

ACTORS AND SIN, written, directed and produced by Ben Hecht; a Sid Kuller Production, presented by Benjamin B. Smith and released through United Artists.Actor’s BloodMaurice Tillayou . . . . . Edward G. RobinsonMarcia Tillayou . . . . . Marsha HuntAlfred O’Shea . . . . . Dan O’HerlihyOtto Lachsley . . . . . Rudolph AndersTommy . . . . . Alice KeyWoman of SinOrlando Higgens . . . . . Eddie AlbertDaisy Marcher . . . . . Jenny HechtJ. B. Cobb . . . . . Alan ReedMiss Flannigan . . . . . Tracey RobertsMrs. Egelhofer . . . . . Jody Gilbert

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