Half a Sinner is a fun, light hearted romp. Released on April 5, 1940, this short 60 minute black and white film was based on a short story by Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo, at the time this film was made, was one of the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood. He regularly made $4,000 dollars a day when on assignment and could pull in as much as $80,0000 a year. A pretty penny in the 1940’s. Trumbo was even nominated for an Academy Award for Writing an Adapted Screenplay (for Kitty Foyle) in 1940. But just three years later, Trumbo made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. He joined the Communist Party. America at the time was in the midst of the red scare. People saw a Communist threat under every bush and around every corner. And politicians in Washington, DC were getting ready to act. It was the age of McCarthyism. Trumbo joined the Communist Party in 1943 and in 1946 was named a Communist sympathizer and was summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to answer some of the questions posed by the committee members (they often wanted witnesses to name other supposed Communists) and was convicted of contempt of Congress. Trumbo eventually served 11 months in jail. But even worse, he was blacklisted. Hollywood was in a state of turmoil with the end of World War II and two major strikes in the entertainment industry. Plus there was a change in the perception of the Communist Party; instead of the reluctant ally against Nazi Germany, Communism was becoming the new boogeyman in the fears of the Western world. In the USA there was also a growth of conservatism and the Republican victory in the 1946 Congressional elections saw the Republicans take control of both houses of Congress. Hmmmm, substitute Islam for Communism and it sounds a lot like today’s political climate actually.
The Hollywood Ten, Dalton Trumbo included, were among the first cited for contempt of Congress and the first, but certainly not the last, that Hollywood studios fired and banned from further employment. Most of those blacklisted either fled Hollywood for Europe or went underground to work. Some, like Trumbo, continued to work but used pseudonyms or hid under the names of friends and relatives. Dalton Trumbo stayed in Hollywood and thirty scripts under false names for mostly B-level studios. In 1956 he wrote the script for the film The Brave One which went on to win an Academy Award but the Award went to the producer’s nephew since that was the name Trumbo used to write the script. While blacklisted, Trumbo also wrote Roman Holiday (1956) under the name of an English screenwriter. This film, too, won an Academy Award but Trumbo was not awarded the screen credit until years after his death and a new statue had to be made for the award since the family of the screenwriter whose name Trumbo used refused to give up the original statue. Over time, and with the support of powerful Hollywood players, the blacklist faded. In 1960 actor Kirk Douglas openly acknowledged that Dalton Trumbo had written the screenplay for his film, Spartacus and Trumbo was finally freed of the power of the blacklist. He was reinstated in the Writers Guild of America, received full credit on all further scripts, and was able to claim credit for those he had written while under the blacklist. Trumbo was one of the lucky ones; less than ten percent of all the victims of the blacklist were able to eventually rebuild their careers.
Today’s film, Half a Sinner, was written in sunnier times, when Trumbo was at the height of his fame, long before the nightmare of the blacklist. It is a very short film, just under an hour long, and is a fun, ridiculous romp. Our schoolteacher-on-a-fling heroine, Anne, is played by actress Heather Angel. Heather also played the fiancee of adventurer Bulldog Drummond in five of the films in that series (keep an eye out, film fans, I am reviewing ole Bulldog soon). Schoolteacher Anne, tired of the hum drum life of boring respectability, decides to splurge on a new dress and shoes and to live it up for a day. Her idea of a fling is reading in the park (what a wild start!) but things turn sour when a gangster starts hitting on her and will not take “No” for an answer. So Anne knocks him over and steals his car to make a quick gettaway. Unfortunately, poor Anne is totally unaware of the dead body in the back seat. Soon Anne has picked up another passenger, this time a live and very handsome guy named Larry, played by John “Dusty” King (he went on to fame in the Western series the Range Busters). Larry is a bit perturbed when he discovers Anne’s stiff passenger but otherwise is quick to help Anne on her trip to the wild side. Soon our happy-go-lucky twosome are being chased by cops, gangsters, and one meddling old lady.
Half a Sinner is just plain fun. Anne is sweet and Larry is hot and they make a fun couple in a hilarious and ridiculous setup. This is not a slapstick comedy, Half a Sinner relies more on snarky talk and expressions and double takes to deliver the fun. The film is black and white and the quality is pretty sharp; it does not suffer from the fuzziness and blurriness of many older films. The audio quality is also excellent. The Internet Archive has great version of Half a Sinner which you can watch online or download completely FREE. )
Also, in honor of everyone’s favorite joke day, April Fools’ Day, enjoy this hilarious Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon, Cookin’ with Gags. A color cartoon from January 14, 1955, Cookin’ with Gags is one of the 122 animated Popeye shorts produced by Famous Studios from 1942 to 1957. In this cartoon, which runs six minutes and 33 seconds, Popeye and Bluto take Olive on a picnic which quickly dissolves into a series of “April Fools’” jokes on poor Popeye. Bluto and Olive think it is all a laugh a minute until Popeye gets the last laugh. The color is bright and sharp and the audio excellent. The Internet Archive has two versions, Version #1 and Version #2 which can be downloaded or watched online completely FREE.