19 November 2014 | secondtake
It's an Ulmer film, but it's no Detour...solid dramatic stuff from the mainstream
Her Sister's Secret (1946)
An enchanting double-entendre title, and a slightly forced but still effective melodrama. The time is intense—World War II—and the desperation of lonely men and women leads to the crux of the plot, a child born out of wedlock.
This only happens after some decent character development, mainly between the man, a charming average fellow played by Phillip Reed, and the woman, who is the main character, Toni, played by a charming Nancy Coleman. Neither actor is well known, and you might make a case for their plainness here. Both are convincingly normal people—not the glowing stars that live in someone else's universe.
Because these regular folk are facing a pretty common problem, though one that was hushed up or swept up at the time, at least amidst the upper middle classes depicted here. The large twist is the immediate solution to the problem, a believable convenience in wartime. It leads to emotional conflicts and some heartwrenching decisions, and eventually to a crisis involving really good and well-meaning people.
Such is a melodrama.
The filming is typical amazing 1940s Hollywood, dramatic and silky. Cameraman Franz Planar has a huge resume of quite good but not stellar films, but I've seen a number of them recently and am impressed by a steady professional richness to them all (I'm thinking of "Bad for Each Other," an odd but beautiful Charlton Heston vehicle). This visual sense helps hold the film up as it rises and falls through the streets of Mardi Gras to house interiors. It's all rather enjoyable if never quite riveting and demanding.
This movie might be forgettable if not for the cult favorite director, Edgar Ulmer. And it truly is his panache that lifts a B-movie to something worth watching. It lacks the dazzle of his famous movies like "The Black Cat," but it still has a slightly daring social twist for the time. Give it a go on a quiet night when you can get absorbed.