Continuing my report on the Carole Lombard series at NYC’s Film Forum, I now address Sinners in the Sun (1932), a hilariously extravagant title for a picture about a model and a mechanic, poor but in love, who take a melodramatic and improbable (though not unenjoyable) journey, only to learn that money doesn’t bring happiness. Be careful what you wish for! This is one of those movies that wants to have it both ways. It intends to reassure Depression audiences that love far outweighs the pleasures of material goods, but only does so after the stars have overindulged themselves in luxury. Audience members get to feel that their own lives aren’t so bad, while vicariously swimming in a lavish lifestyle (before it’s rejected by the stars). This brand of movie manipulation has never really gone away. The Devil Wears Prada did a variation on this old chestnut just two years ago.
Luscious Lombard is the fashion model, and Chester Morris is the mechanic who wants to marry her now! It’s Lombard who wants more, and it’s almost comical how quickly both stars find wealthy lovers. Morris marries the woman who hires him as her chauffeur, and Lombard becomes mistress to a married (separated) man. Oh, the cars, clothes, travel, jewels, and all that unfulfillment, all that numbing dissatisfaction. Wouldn’t it have been more fun, just once, to see a happy couple split over financial issues and find greater happiness with partners of real means? If only for the novelty of it! Lombard and Morris take an elaborate path back to square one. But, since this is a pre-Code drama, at least Lombard doesn’t have to be punished for being sexually adventurous.
A very young Cary Grant has two scenes here as a dapper smoothie interested in Lombard. They starred together in In Name Only (1939), a good soap opera, but here, in 1932, they are both unformed. She isn’t Lombard yet, and he isn’t Cary Grant, but they are on their way to finding their on-screen selves. They may or may not be sinners but they’re clearly headed for careers in the sun.