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The Wages of Sin

April 7, 2024 - 5:40 pm
Introduction by television writer-producer and author David Stenn.

Admission is free. No advance reservations. Seats are available on a first come, first served basis. Hammer Museum members will have reserved seating available at the box office. The box office opens one hour before the first program of the day.

The Lighter Side of Hearst Newsreels #5: “Variety”

Our fifth newsreel segment covers a variety of inventions that defy easy categorization. From an early version of synthetic speech to a fence that listens and foils saboteurs, let us continue to explore the curious creations from times gone by.—Jeffrey Bickel

Sweet Shoe

U.S., 1937

Restoration world premiere 

Rita Rio — later known to film audiences as Dona Drake (Kansas City Confidential) — led one of the most commercially successful all-woman swing bands of the 1930s (after Ina Ray Hutton). Showcasing her vivacious stage presence, this breezy musical short accurately reflects why Rio was known as the “Mexican tornado of rhythm” (though born Eunice Westmoreland to a family of mainly African American heritage). In addition to highlighting Rio’s very efficacious stage brand with a “sweet and hot” version of “La Cucaracha,” the film showcases the entertaining acrobatic tap dancer Anita Jakobi as well as The Norsemen and The Four Specs.—Todd Wiener

DCP, b&w, 11 min. Director: Milton Schwarzwald. With: Rita Rio and Her All Girl Orchestra, The Norsemen, Anita Jakobi, The Four Specs.

Restoration funded by a grant from the GRAMMY Museum®. Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from 16mm prints. Laboratory services by Roundabout Entertainment, Inc. Special thanks to the Library of Congress, Mark Cantor.

The Wages of Sin

U.S., 1938

Restoration world premiere

When Hollywood began the rigid enforcement of Production Code self-censorship in 1934, the major studios could no longer depict any subject on screen that would presumably compromise their audience’s morals. Undaunted, independent producers began to shoot shockingly lurid films that skirted this prohibition, indulging in screen taboos such as sex, nudity and drug addiction, among other controversial topics. Such titillating content would be presented within a cautionary framework that disingenuously implied that these films were educational and exposed societal ills for the public good.

The Wages of Sin falls into the “wayward woman” classification of the exploitation genre, with a little striptease and murder thrown in for good measure. The plot revolves around young Marjorie Benton, who works hard to support her ne’er-do-well family, and is fatefully enticed to spend an evening at a seedy nightclub. Plied with drinks and marijuana, she catches the eye of a pimp who callously begins to coerce her into the “Sisterhood of Sorrow.”

Constance Worth, who plays the film’s doomed heroine, was an upcoming Australian actress before moving to the United States in 1936. Initially signed with RKO, Worth lost her contract a year later — ostensibly due to unfavorable press generated around her messy divorce from actor George Brent. Predictably, The Wages of Sin did nothing to boost her standing in Hollywood, and she spent the rest of her career appearing primarily in Poverty Row studio productions.

Silent cinema fans might recognize Clara Kimball Young playing the bordello madam, a character starkly different from the virtuous heroine roles that had made her one of the most popular actresses of the 1910s. Director Herman E. Webber would go on to serve as production manager for a number of film noir classics, notably The Man Who Cheated Himself and Cry Danger (both restored by UCLA).—Steven K. Hill

35mm, b&w, 76 min. Director: Herman E. Webber. Screenwriter: Willis Kent. With: Constance Worth, Willy Castello, Blanche Mehaffey, Clara Kimball Young, Carleton Young.

Restoration funded by David Stenn. Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from the 35mm nitrate original picture negative and a 35mm safety print. Laboratory services by YCM Laboratories, Roundabout Entertainment, Inc., Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound.