"Man, Woman and Sin" (1927)

Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Directed by Monta Bell
Story by Monta Bell
Scenario by Alice D.G. Miller
Released November 19, 1927

Cast: John Gilbert, Jeanne Eagels, Gladys Brockwell, Marc MacDermott, Philip Anderson, Hayden Stevenson, Charles K. French, Aileen Manning and Margaret Lee


A story of poverty, love, and murder and complicated by a love-triangle, the story begins with a young Albert Whitcomb, dressed in ragged clothing, carrying a sack, and walking beside a railroad track looking for anything of value. Men on the coal tender of a passing passenger train throw coals at the young boy, and one strikes him on the forehead knocking him to the ground.

On the train a young girl tells her mother, "Look at that dirty boy." The mother replies,"Don't point dear."

The boy returns to his dilapidated home in a shanty alley and gives his mother 11 pennies that he found. Putting the pennies into a sugar jar, Mrs. Whitcomb tells him, "My! At this rate, sonny, we'll be having a real home soon." Mrs. Whitcomb takes in washing and also makes ironing pad covers.

Delivering an ironing pad cover one day, Albert goes to an elegant home where a birthday party is being held. He is awed when the door is opened by a young girl in a party dress and is struck by the sight of the neatly dressed boys and girls.

The young girl is sent into the house. Albert is given a tip and hurriedly turned away by the lady of the house. Taking the ironing pads from Albert, the woman of the house tells her elegantly dressed friends, "They live in our alley. The mother makes ironing pads and does wash." One of her guests looks at the bill for the ironing pad covers and replies, "She makes a good profit."

As the years go by, the shy, naive and innocent young boy turns into a shy, naive and innocent young man. After a succession of jobs as a newsboy, a chore-boy and a messenger boy, Albert finally obtains a steady job with The Morning World, the leading Washington, DC, newspaper enabling Albert and his mother to move out of the alley.

At the newspaper Albert works in the basement. Going out on his lunch break, the naive young man spurns the advances of a switchboard operator. During lunch Albert is glancing through the newspaper and notices photographs of chorus girls and suddenly becomes aware of women.

After work he visits a brothel and is embarrassed by the attentions of the ladies of the evening. He later assists one of the editors of the newspaper who, upon causing a ruckus, is being thrown out of the brothel. When he arrives home late at night, he tells his mother that he was working overtime.

The following day, with the assistance of the editor that he met in the brothel, Albert is promoted to a cub reporter. His life changes drastically when Bancroft, the publisher of the newspaper, calls the editor and tells him, "Get some reporter to escort the Society Editor to the ball." Vera Worth,the society editor, walks into the editor's office and, looking at Albert, she tells the editor, "What about that boy?" The naive young man, looking dapper in a rented suit, escorts the, glamourous, spoiled and easily bored Vera Worth to the posh Embassy Ball.

The ball is the high point of Albert's social life, and he becomes romantically entangled with the society editor. Naive Albert does not realize that Vera is the mistress of the paper's owner, Bancroft, and when Bancroft discovers Albert and Vera together in the apartment for which he's been footing the bill, a fight breaks out, and Albert kills Bancroft in self-defense. Vera, to save her reputation, perjures herself at the trial, and Albert is convicted of murder.

Lukewarm reviews

John Gilbert was at the height of his career in 1927, and he was fond of a poem called "The Widow in the Bye Street" by John Masefield. He wanted to film it, but Louis B. Mayer didn't care for the poem. So, with the assistance of Monta Bell and Alice D. G. Miller, they produced an Americanized version of the poem.

Harrison's Reports (December 19, 1927) said, "But the story is too heavy; after seeing it, one feels as if one has seen the most depressing show in one's life."

Variety (December 7, 1927) said, "Box office possibilities not above average with the exception of localities where Gilbert is strong enough to draw on name, aided and abetted by the alluring title."

The New York Times (November 30, 1927) said, "Mr. Bell, who also supplied the manuscript for this film, makes the mistake of dawdling over some unimportant incidents and hurrying over his climax."

Although "Man, Woman and Sin" received lukewarm reviews and was not particularly well-received, Gilbert's other feature film in release at the time, "Love," co-starring Greta Garbo, was well received by the critics.

John Gilbert

John Gilbert (1892-1936) born John Pringle, into a show business family where his father was the principal comic of the Pringle Stock Company. He began as an extra with Thomas Ince in 1915 and, with a few years experience, he was a lead player besides being an assistant director and a screenwriter. He got a big boost to his career in 1919 when he appeared opposite Mary Pickford in "Heart O' the Hills." Moving to the Fox Film Corporation during the 1920s and then switching to MGM, he achieved stardom as a leading adventure and western hero. By the middle of the decade, Gilbert was a cinema idol with numerous hits to his credit including "He Who Gets Slapped," "The Merry Widow," and "The Big Parade." In 1927 he teamed with Greta Garbo in MGM's "Flesh and the Devil." The two stars were soon romantically involved, and they then starred in "Love" and "A Woman of Affairs," all major hits.

The deterioration of Gilbert's relationship with Garbo and his subsequent conflict with studio-mogul Louis B. Mayer effectively terminated his career. He was an example of the Hollywood roller coaster where the studios promoted an unknown John Doe into a major star, and when they had served their purpose, or the stars considered themselves above the studio bosses or stepped on toes, they were then discarded.

Jeanne Eagels

Jeanne Eagels (1894-1929) appeared on the stage at the age of seven and became famous for her role on stage as Sadie Thompson. She appeared in a few silent films, and I believe that "Man, Woman and Sin" is her only surviving silent film available. A fine print of the film is supposedly housed in the George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y. Eagels died of a heroin overdose in 1929.

Monta Bell

Monta Bell (1891-1958), who entered films in 1923, was a journalist and went on the stage as an actor before acting in Charlie Chaplin's "The Pilgrim." He was employed by Chaplin as a film editor and assistant director, and in 1924, Bell became a full-fledged director. He usually directed sophisticated Lubitsch-like sex comedies. While at MGM in 1926, Bell guided Greta Garbo through her first American film, "The Torrent." At the end of the silent era he was the head of production at the New York-based Astoria sound studios for Paramount. He supervised pioneering talkies including Rouben Mamoulian's "Applause" (1929) and the Marx Brothers' "The Coconuts") (1929). He was active in the film industry until 1945.

Fox Film Corporation

The Fox Film Corporation had its beginning in 1904 when William Fox (1879-1952), a New York City exhibitor who purchased a theater in 1903 and in 1913 formed a rental company to distribute films. He later decided to go into production as Box Office Attractions Film Rental Company. He produced his first feature film, "Life's Shop Window" that he released in 1914. In 1919 he opened offices in Europe, and by1925 he owned 24 theaters stretching from the east coast to the west coast. In November, 1925, the Fox Theater Corporation was incorporated, and that same year the Fox Film Corporation went public with an offering of one million shares.

copyright 2001 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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