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There is very little known and written about as regards Lewis Gilbert's Once a Sinner. It's one of those British "B" noir productions that hasn't been readily available to Brit Noir completists. Thankfully some stalwart noir peeps have kept it topical via internet forums and it does have an official DVD release now.
Once a Sinner is very British. The backdrop is quintessentially of the British period, a place of terrace houses, smoky public houses and working class citizens trawling the wet streets that are dimly lit by bulbous lamps. The dialect and delivery is also very correct in the British mannerisms of the time, and crucially the class divide and society's reaction to our main character is born out by the film makers.
Adapted to the screen by David Evans from the novel "Irene" written by Ronald Marsh, it's a film dealing with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who steals the heart of a well to do man and subsequently flips his life upside down. Peer and parental pressure snobbery is abound as Irene James (Pat Kirkwood) and John Ross (Jack Watling) try to battle through the emotional maze pitched in front of them. But with a crooked ex-lover (the wonderful Sydney Tafler) refusing to go away, Irene's chances of finally making a go of life seems remote.
For the most part the pace is slow and the picture is very dialogue heavy. Ronald Binge's musical score also confuses the issue of just what type of film this wants to be, it's all very breezy and akin to one of those lovely old Ealing comedies that were made with some wry social commentaries. That is until the last quarter is reached and the piece moves onto a different plane...
Gilbert and cinematographer Frank North introduce ominous visuals as Binge's music becomes more sinister in tone. It is here where Once a Sinner earns its noir badge, the narrative becomes devil like and the pay off is straight out of noirville. It's most assuredly a fitting reward for those having the patience to stay with Gilbert's movie during the more laborious passages. 6.5/10
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