STAR OF THE MONTH: MELVYN DOUGLAS
THE GREAT SINNER ( 1949 )
When it was announced that Melvyn Douglas is the chosen star of the month for April, I automatically chose to write about “The Great Sinner”, and it’s rather obvious why, because the charming and ever lovely Ethel Barrymore appears in a short cameo at the end. When I first attained this movie, I got it for Ethel’s presence, and for Melvyn Douglas, who I have always admired, and who happens to hold third leading role in the movie. Although I was disappointed that Ethel only had a small quantity of screen time, I was impressed by the film, and the commendable performance that Melvyn Douglas transmitted to the screen.
“The Great Sinner” is a drama film, which was inspired by the 1866 novel “The Gambler”. Superbly directed by Robert Siodmak, who had previous success in directing notable thrillers such as, “The Dark Mirror”, “The File On Thelma Jordon”, and “The Spiral Staircase”, where he worked with Ethel in what is known as her most distinguished film. After many changes with the cast, finalization took place in June 1948, and the film was set to cast, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Melvyn Douglas, amongst many other eminent names including Ethel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead.
It’s the 1860’s, and Fedya (diminutive of Fyodor) ( Gregory Peck ) a young seasoned writer is travelling to Moscow to engage himself in writing activities. When he meets Pauline Ostrovsky ( Ava Gardner ) he immediately becomes infatuated by her, and departs the train at Wiesbaden, and follows her to a casino, where he discovers that Pauline is an obsessive gambler.
After spending days witnessing compulsive gamblers in action, and seeing the cold response from Pauline and her father, General Ostrovsky, after hearing that his mother, Grandmother Ostrovsky ( Ethel Barrymore ) is dying, Fedya becomes intrigued by the effects of gambling and decides to stay in Wiesbaden so he can observe the lives of gambling addicts to write about them.
As time progresses, Fedya starts to relish in the activities, and enjoys spending many hours at the casino. Eventually he gets swept into the abyss of compulsive gambling himself, and finds himself completely bankrupt, as well as lacking moral fibre. Now that he is impecunious, he resorts to pawning his possessions and robbing a church poor box in order to feed his severe addiction.
“The Great Sinner” is a film that was panned at the box office and by critics, but as the years have passed, the film has been welcomed by critical acclaim, and now receives more recognition than what it did on it’s release.
Even though I was disappointed that Ethel Barrymore only appeared at the film’s climax, and was only given a role that was about fifteen minutes long, I still enjoy the movie, and it is always a delight to watch the very handsome and suave Melvyn Douglas on screen.
Melvyn Douglas is one those actors that tends to get overlooked. It’s a huge shame, as he has appeared in an array of bodacious films with top stars, and always gave a memorable performance, sometimes portraying a character that has left a lasting impression on me. In this film he played the role of Armand de Glasse, and delivered a sterling performance as usual. I just find it a shame that he never shared a scene with Ethel Barrymore, as that would have been spectacular.
Although Ethel Barrymore only had a small role, she still walked away with the picture like she always did. When she did come in, sparks flew with her imperious aura and acidic humor. She always left her mark, and that is one of the reasons why she holds the place as my second favorite actress.
What I do find exceptional about the movie is the costumes that are lush and believable, aiming for the grandeur and tragedy of 19th century European literature without laying the groundwork.
The starring role was first offered to Kirk Douglas, who turned it down in order to make the independent film Champion (1949), for which he was Oscar-nominated.
Based on the 1866 short novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Oh, you can count on my vanity. No matter what you say I’ll regard it as a compliment.
Fedya: All right, if you insist. To one of the most corrupt women I’ve ever met.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Corrupt?
Fedya: Corrupt, confused, frustrated, and empty.
Pauline Ostrovsky: But in a charming sort of way, you’ll admit.
Fedya: Well charm, my dear is your gambling capital. You toss it on the table like money, like everything else, even a dying grandmother.
Pauline Ostrovsky: When a man takes the trouble to be so rude to a woman, he is usually falling in love with her.
Fedya: You’re not a woman. You are a symptom.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Of what?
Fedya: Of one of the worlds deadliest diseases, sophistication. More champagne?
Pauline Ostrovsky: What else am I?
Fedya: You are irritatingly beautiful.
Pauline Ostrovsky: Well, at last!
Fedya: And everything, I reject.
Gregory Peck: Born Eldred Gregory Peck on April 5th, 1916 in San Diego, California. Died: June 12th, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 87.
Ava Gardner: Born Ava Lavinia Gardner on December 24th, 1922 in Smithfield, North Carolina. Died: January 25th, 1990 in Westminster, London. Aged 67.
Melvyn Douglas: Born Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg on April 5th, 1901 in Macon, Georgia. Died: August 4th, 1981 in New York. Aged 80.
Ethel Barrymore: Born Ethel Mae Blythe on August 15th, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: June 18th, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 79.