Apr 3, 2012

The Sin of Nora Moran

In traditional pre-globalized puritanical Amerikkka, one would most certainly be at a loss to find genuine expressions of art and themes of moral unscrupulousness in movies. Sure, even to this day, the business-minded Hollywood studios continue to refrain from creating actual cinematic art and large segments of the America populous still keeps their irrational minds firmly encased in a medieval pseudo-Nazarene ghetto, but unconventional cinema has, thankfully, managed to marginally flourish since the post-WWII era as proven by works like Kenneth Anger’s iconic fetishistic masculine leather flick Scorpio Rising (1964) and Vincent Gallo’s feeble foreplay-ridden blowjob diary Brown Bunny (2003). Of course, a handful of American filmmakers were able to create artistically significant libertine works like Alla Nazimova's ultra-campy Beardsley-esque production of Salomé (1923) and the reasonably Biblically-correct homoerotic avant-garde short Lot In Sodom (1933) during the Pre-Code era, but, unfortunately, most of these films were neglected up their initial releases and thus, unsurprisingly, have remained all but forgotten in a mongrelized nation that has always prided itself on its mass-man 'culture' of vile peasant supremacy. Recently, I happened to come across the uncommonly risqué avant-garde crime melodrama The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) aka Voice from the Grave directed by Phil Goldstone. Featuring premarital sexual promiscuity and high-class adultery, gross political corruption, noxious crimes of passion, and all around debauchery and criminality from prohibition era America, The Sin of Nora Moran is a film that is in the highly entertaining epicurean spirit of HBO’s popular television series Boardwalk Empire. What makes the film especially interesting is that it was actually created during the era it portrays, yet, unlike most vintage Hollywood films of a similar but sapless sort created around the same time, The Sin of Nora Moran is distinctly uncompromising in its portrayal of ruling class corruption and rampant societal decadence. On top of candidly portraying the true grittiness and unwavering nihilistic hedonism of the era, The Sin of Nora Moran is an artistically ambitious and potent work that takes a totally transcendent yet agreeably mellifluent approach to storytelling, which has more in common with early European surrealist and arthouse works than the typical Hollywood crime and film noir flicks of that era.

 The Sin of Nora Moran follows a sweet but tragic girl who has suffered immensely and without end during her ill-fated yet relatively far-flung life. Orphaned, raped, exploited, betrayed, and imprisoned, beautiful babyface Nora Moran (played by Banat-German-American actresses Zita Johann) is a lovely little lady who has led a life of grave contretemps, but she remains as darling and dainty as ever during her increasingly accursed personal journey. Essentially, Nora is the archetypical adversary of the typical film noir femme fatale. While most film noir flicks portray the female lead as a conspiring succubus of sorts, Nora Moran of The Sin of Nora Moran is a natural victim who, against her somewhat strong will, becomes a virtual sex doll for men to rape, abuse, and ultimately dispose of. Although a mere quasi-burlesque circus performer trying to survive in an intrinsically ungodly world, Nora finds herself blindly climbing an ethically crooked social ladder and becoming the veiled mistress of a powerful yet disastrously irresponsible governor named Bill Crawford (played by Paul Cavanagh). When circus lion tamer Paulino (played by John Miljan) – a patently malicious man who also happens to be Nora’s personal serial rapist – finds out about the hopelessly star-crossed love affair, he naively conspires to blackmail the governor, but not without fatal results. After the accidental slaying of supreme degenerate Paulino, poor Nora, a selfless girl with seemingly no future, decides to take the blame, thus saving governor Bill and a conspiring District Attorney named John Grant (played by Alan Dinehart) from a career-shattering political scandal and a hot date with the electric chair. The short and sad story of Nora Moran is told from a variety of extravagant recollections and flashbacks-within-flashbacks and narrated by the District Attorney. Predating Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000) and the films of Quentin Tarantino by well over half a century, Nora’s horribly hexed life story is told in a delightfully discordant manner of meticulously deconstructed chronology. The Sin of Nora Moran also features a grim glimpse inside Nora’s calamitous subconscious as she awaits her deplorable and wholly undeserved destiny on death row. Defying the fundamental plot and theme conventions of virtually every Hollywood film ever created, The Sin of Nora Moran is a daring downer that offers no happy endings nor any form of solace for the viewer; a fact the film hints at from the very beginning.

Despite its hyper doom and gloom buffet of murder, rape, and suicide, The Sin of Nora Moran is, in consummation, an abnormally gorgeous go-getter of a film that was lavishly assembled with a broken moral compass and a keen eye for artistic focus, but, of course, it has its flaws.  Being a product of its era, The Sin of Nora Moran does have its share of aged-based thematic spoilage; most specifically, it’s surely outdated and modernly mundane portrayal of sin, which seems quite absurd in our present age of pronounced mass communal devolution.  After all, I doubt the 1930s featured such everyday absurdities as members of the white bourgeois dressing like impoverished ghetto blacks and vice versa, and where even college professor speak colloquially and boast of sexual conquests and the need for violent social unrest. While viewing the film, I often found the District Attorney's stoic and articulate narration to be unintentionally humorous as his once-common manner of refined 'anglophile' speech is now all but obsolete, henceforth linguistically deteriorating into the hooked-on-ebonics nation America is today. Naturally, the delinquent philandering antics of the manslaughtering governor seem quite tame by today's standards as we now live in a country where a recent ex-president and ardent adulterer found great joy in shoving his cigar in a husky Hebrew girl's snatch and where the current president is a literal double-bastard with anti-western Fanonian sympathies. In short, The Sin of Nora Moran is a classy, if somewhat outmoded and very slightly thematically moldy, tale of domestic transgression gone terribly awry. Combined with a spectacular nonlinear technique of mesmeric avant-garde storytelling that is comparable to F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and the once-assumed-lost Preston Sturge’s penned work The Power and Glory (1933), The Sin of Nora Moran is an ideally idiosyncratic work that will seem like a recovered lost treasure to any serious and adventurous cinephile.  In a manner of truly brazen blasphemy, Nora Moran, an 'unclean' girl of extra easy virtue, is betrayed and sacrificed for the sins of others just as Jesus Christ was.  Like his fellow Hebraic kinsmen and low-budget carny filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman, The Sin of Nora Moran director Phil Goldstone was mainly a producer and peddler of smut, but he did have his moment(s) of brilliance.  Although, I cannot say that I have seen most of his films (the majority of which seem to have deteriorated in some forgotten studio vaults), which range from obscure c-grade westerns like Montana Bill (1921) to exploitative works about venereal diseases like Damaged Goods (1937), The Sin of Nora Moran is indubitably Phil Goldstone's 'Citizen Kane' (and apparently this little b-movie did inspire Mr. Welles' masterpiece).

-Ty E


Anonymous said...

This is another one of those movies that really makes you curse "The Hayes office Code" and how it literally destroyed American films for 34 years (1934-68).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Zita Johanns most famous role was as the Princess in "The Mummy" (1932), such a shame she had to degrade herself in that though by acting alongside that British scumbag Boris Karloff.