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Bijou, a saloon singer with a reputation for inciting brouhahas, is one of several deportees from a south Pacific island to arrive at another U.S. protectorate, Boni Komba. She becomes very popular with U.S. navy men by performing at the 'Seven Sinners'. A navy Lieutenant is attracted to Bijou despite the Governor's machinations to keep them apart, and the competing affections of local mobster, Antro. Will the Lieutenant give up the navy for Bijou, and will he survive Antro's forces?Written by
Gary Jackson <email@example.com>
Declared "box office poison" in the middle 1930s with such inept film figures as Katherine Hepburn and Fred Astaire (one would like to know what happened to the idiot that wrote the advertisement about "box office poison" in later years - did he find nobody listened to his opinions anymore?), Marlene Dietrich made a comeback in the late 1930s with DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, cementing it with SEVEN SINNERS and FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS. She proved quite adept at performing without her old "Svengali" director Joe Von Sternberg pulling the strings. Her stardom would survive intact until her retirement in the 1960s. Box office poison indeed!
Had Von Sternberg directed instead of Tay Garnett SEVEN SINNERS would have been somewhat like THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN. Concha, the heroine in THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN goes from man to man for her own benefit, not caring for any evil results that befall these men (in fact, she only seems to change at the end when she senses that she has lost Lionel Atwill's affections for good - it is a new experience and she is not crazy about it). Bijou is willing to use her sexual allure too, but unlike Concha she is not in control of the situation constantly. Concha rules the roost of the provincial town society she resides in (witness how she basically controls the Mayor of the town (Edward Everett Horton) about the matter of the duel between Atwill and Cesar Romero). Bijou finds she is not in control of the officials of the south sea islands she is living in. She is a notorious character, and can be thrown off islands at will.
Yet she does fascinate or control a good number of men - most notably John Wayne, a U.S. Navy officer who risks his career and future social marriage to Ann Lee for her. There are also Broderick Crawford and Mischa Auer, her two raffish protectors (Crawford a naval deserter and Auer a swindler and magician). There is her former employer Billy Gilbert, who rehires her despite misgivings (more about that later), and - most sinisterly, Oscar Homolka - a knife wielding criminal mob boss.
Homolka is ultimately quite a dangerous and bad guy, but he does have one running joke with Vince Barnett, the bartender at Gilbert's cafe. Barnett is a quiet, timid character of few words, but he does appreciate a joke. Every now and then Homolka makes some really nasty joke about what he'd do to Wayne or anyone else standing between him and Dietrich. Barnett starts laughing along with Homolka at the jokes, and at first Homolka is appreciating his own sense of humor to notice - then he does notice, and it makes him less happy. He's not there to entertain this idiot bartender. So each time he ends Barnett's laughing by throwing a stiletto next to his head. And Barnett does shut up...until the next time.
There is also one other - an exception to the rule of the manipulatable men in her life: Albert Dekker. Dekker was starting his interesting film career at this time. He had first gained notoriety playing Baron Geiger in the original stage version of Vicki Baum's GRAND HOTEL. Dekker was "Albert Van Dekker" when he essayed the role (opposite Sig Ruman as Preysling). Both were noted as first rate performers in the drama, but neither was brought to Hollywood for the film (John Barrymore and Wallace Beery playing the two roles in the movie). Ruman got the Hollywood nod first, but by 1939 Dekker was in Hollywood too. He soon was given some interesting parts - the twin brothers in AMONG THE LIVING and the evil scientist in DR. CYCLOPS being the best known.
His performance as the ship doctor in SEVEN SINNERS is interesting. He and Bijou hit it off, but he is not ready for commitment when the ship docks, but they part amicably. As a result, when the film ends and Bijou again is on board the ship, Dekker is available to replace Wayne as her permanent lover. It's a situation (by the way) that never reappears in any other Dietrich film: she usually ends with the hero, or ends alone.
The other men are besotted regarding Bijou, and it eventually leads to the final battle (nearly to the death) between Wayne and Homolka. But the most interesting (to me) is Gilbert. A hard working, and flustered, businessman - his role seems typical for Gilbert. He is forced to do things he knows are illegal or dangerous for Bijou because he does like her. But in the end, surprisingly, she shows she really cares for him too. Gilbert rarely had a dramatic moment in his films (he was such a good comic actor, nobody thought of him in dramatic parts). Here he is accidentally stabbed when the homicidal Homolka was aiming at Wayne in the final fight. Critically stabbed in his back, Gilbert is under a table when Dietrich comes over to him, and starts taking care of him and comforting him until the doctors can come. It too is a rather unusual moment for Dietrich, and one is glad that it was brought out in this fine movie.
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