UCLA Festival of Preservation
Her Sister’s Secret / The First Legion
Her Sister’s Secret
dir. Edgar G. Ulmer, USA, 1946, 35mm, 86 min. b/w
Her Sister’s Secret is a melodrama of two sisters, one of whom has a child out of wedlock, the other unable to have children but willing to adopt, leading to a conflict that Bertolt Brecht would later rework in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The film demonstrates an uncommon flair for the complicated nature of emotions, for the frivolity of love, the difficulties of motherhood and the barely concealed jealousy of the sister, while pitting itself against the unwritten Hollywood laws of a puritanical America, where a single mother has to be “punished.” Indeed, unlike standard Hollywood melodramas, here there are neither villains nor any moral condemnation, qualities that are common to German exile productions.
And this was indeed an exile production. Arnold Pressburger, himself a refugee in Hollywood, bought Austrian writer Gina Kaus’ novel, Die Schwestern Kleh (1932), and produced a French version in Paris as Conflit (1938). Pressburger then tried to remake the property in Hollywood, after producing Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die! (1943). But he couldn’t get it past the Breen Office, which opined: “that it is basically a story of illicit sex and illegitimacy, without sufficient compensating moral values,” meaning the heroine doesn’t die for her sins. He therefore gave the property to a former film distributor from Berlin, and coincidentally, his brother-in-law, Henry Brasch, as a first Hollywood project. Financed at PRC, the producer brought in Edgar G. Ulmer who hired Franz Planer as cameraman, another Austro-Bohemian-Jewish émigré, like Pressburger, Kaus and Ulmer. Planer knew how to move a camera, German style, as the opening Mardi Gras scenes demonstrate, and Ulmer squeezes every penny of production value out of those scenes. The music was supplied by another German émigré, Hans Sommer, so all the principals behind the camera were from pre-Nazi Berlin. Meanwhile, fellow Berlin compatriots, Felix Bressart, Fritz Feld and Rudolf Anders are seen in crucial minor roles.
The film was restored from a surviving 35mm camera negative with the track re-recorded, an extreme rarity, since most PRC films only survive in 16mm. —Jan-Christopher Horak
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Film Foundation and The Franco-American Cultural Fund, a unique partnership between The Directors Guild of America (DGA), The Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA), Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique (SACEM), The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW)
Restored from the 35mm nitrate camera negative and the 35mm nitrate fine grain master. Laboratory services by The Cinemalab, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to: Alexander Kogan Jr.
The First Legion
dir. Douglas Sirk, USA, 1951, 35mm, 86 min. b/w
All is not well in the hushed spaces of Jesuit Saint Gregory’s Seminary. Dominated by conservative older men, the institution is sometimes suffocating to younger initiates such as Father John Fulton (Wesley Addy), whose spirituality is stimulated more by music concerts outside of the walls than by prayer and study within. Even a seasoned professional like Father Arnoux (Charles Boyer), a former lawyer and writer of searching, philosophical articles, chafes within the small community of leaders who resist introspection and change, and obsess over seeing their founding figure, “Blessed Joseph,” canonized by the Roman church. Salty Monsignor Carey (William Demarest) from the local Catholic parish is a frequent, friendly scold: admiring the Jesuits’ mission work and determination, while needling them for their backwardness.
A new wind blasts through the stalwart institution when aged Father Sierra (H. B. Warner), who has been bedridden and failing for several years, stands and walks after envisioning Blessed Joseph. Suddenly, all are animated by the apparent presence of a miracle—from young priests who have sought a sense of spiritual meaning, to older ones who see an opportunity to advance the cause of canonization. The public is likewise energized, as pilgrims flock to the lure of healing power. All of this is to the great chagrin of Doctor Peter Morell (Lyle Bettger), who treated Father Sierra and looks upon the topic of “miracles” with derision. He is especially sorry to see his young friend Terry Gilmartin (Barbara Rush), a socialite crippled in a riding accident, joining the pilgrims. Morell’s disgust moves him to confide to Father Arnoux that things are not as they seem in Father Sierra’s recovery—threatening the hopes of thousands, including those of the small religious community.
Trafficking in the parochial concerns of a complex subculture, director Douglas Sirk evokes powerful, universal emotions with this fascinating independent production, completed before his celebrated, decade-long run as a director of melodramas at Universal Pictures. Here, the question of openings and dead ends that occur in both scientific pursuits and faith journeys is made remarkably compelling, and all the more fascinating as enacted by a sterling cast headed by Boyer and Bettger—each man seeking a way to live a principled life that accommodates both common sense and hope. —Shannon Kelley
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Louis B. Mayer Foundation and The Carl David Memorial Fund for Film Preservation
Restored from a 35mm acetate fine grain master and two 35mm acetate prints. Laboratory services by Fotokem, Film Technology Company, Chace Audio by Deluxe. Special thanks to: Tracy Lavery.