Plot: Marion (Loretta Young) is a small town girl who falls for Jimmy (David Manners), a big city fella who passes through her Kansas hometown on business. She’s a good girl, but she falls hard for him and soon, even her family turns against her, shocked by her flighty behavior. Her parents reveal that she was adopted and her mother was a wild child, a trait they hoped she wouldn’t inherit. Alienated at home, Marion pursues Jimmy to New York and discovers that while he led her on, he happens to have a fiancee and she turns her attention elsewhere. This leads to a friendship with the free spirited Dixie (Una Merkel) and a potential career in show business, but is her relationship with Jimmy truly over or is there a future in there somewhere?
Entertainment Value: This is a brisk, fun pre-code movie that might not be as overly scandalous as some of its peers, but They Call It Sin entertains and offers a terrific cast of players. The narrative is a simple one, but it works well thanks to the cast and some snappy dialogue. I appreciate when pre-code films explore social issues with great substance, but not every one needs to follow that path and sometimes, just being entertained is enough. At the same time, while the tone here is light and brisk, there are flashes of pre-code sizzle, especially in the dialogue and the scene where Marion’s parents reveal she is adopted is a head turner. The dialogue is sharp and is a good blend of melodrama and humor, with more of an emphasis on the latter. I love good banter and They Call It Sin delivers on that front, with memorable exchanges performed by the talented cast. The movie has a crisp pace and clocks in at just over an hour, so this one is all bite and no bark. I marvel at how much some of these pre-code movies manage to achieve in an hour or so, given how many modern movies are obsessed with filler and bloated run times.
I think the cast of They Call It Sin is a big reason the movie works so well, as the material is a little thin at times, but the talented lineup of stars is able to make even the more forgettable moments seem interesting. Loretta Young plays the lead and was a great choice, as she shines in the role and brings such enthusiasm, as well as the innocent spark the role requires. She has such a magnetic screen presence and she’s able to elevate the script, with her charm and charisma on full showcase. Young could easily carry this kind of material on her own, but the movie bolsters her presence with some other talented performers. Una Merkel is delightful and brings her usual infectious energy to the movie, while David Manners and George Brent also provide more than solid supporting roles. The cast also includes Helen Vinson and Louis Calhern, so this is a rock solid ensemble. While a little on the tame side, They Call It Sin delivers in terms of pure entertainment, with a brisk and always fun narrative, not to mention a vibrant lead and impressive overall cast. So for fans of pre-code movies and classic cinema in general, this is a recommended watch.