They Call It Sin (1932)

Film Review


Release Date: 5 November 1932

Studio: First National Pictures

Director: Thornton Freeland

Starring: Loretta Young, George Brent, David Manners, Una Merkel, Louis Calhern

Writers: Lillie Hayward, Howard J. Green, screenplay; Alberta Stedman Eagan, novel

Cinematographer: James Van Trees


Visiting a small Kansas town, Jimmy Decker (Manners) romances pretty Marion Cullen (Young). Decker leaves the disappointed Marion and returns to New York. Marion learns that her supposed parents had adopted her. Realizing that she is not very attached to them, she leaves home and follows Jimmy to New York, hoping to marry him.

Disappointment awaits Marion in New York. Jimmy is engaged and will marry soon. He introduces Marion to his friend Dr. Tony Travers (Brent) who is attracted to her. Not wanting to go back to Kansas, Marion seeks a job with a musical show and is hired by producer Ford Humphries (Calhern) as a rehearsal pianist. Marion meets showgirl Dixie Dare (Merkel) and becomes her roommate. Marion shows Humphries some music she has written. Romantically interested in Marion, Humphries makes advances that Marion rejects, and he fires her. He appropriates her music for his show without crediting or compensating Marion.

Jimmy, returned from his honeymoon, wants to renew his romantic relationship with Marion who tells him about her stolen music. At a party in Humphries terraced suite, Humphries and Jimmy argue over Marion. During the altercation, Humphries stumbles, falls from his terrace, and is critically injured. To shield Jimmy from arrest, Marion says she pushed Humphries. Dr. Travers operates on Humphries who regains consciousness long enough to exonerate Marion. Marion admits her love for Tony and agrees to marry him.


An example of the economical women’s films made by Warner Bros and other studios in the 1930s, this romantic drama, revolving around an adult female protagonist, is designed to appeal to the young women in the audience. The plot examines the conflicts in the heroine’s interpersonal relationships and the adversity she experiences before her troubles are resolved. The resolution, meant to satisfy the female audience, generally involved marriage to a deserving man.

In this romantic drama, a beautiful and innocent young woman, Loretta Young, age 19, looking suitably delicate and vulnerable, is threatened to "sin" by two handsome and wealthy, but morally corrupt, men. Although tempted, she resists them and wins the love of a better man, equally handsome but also faithful and clean living.

The weakly plotted film is based on a 1932 novel of the same name written by writer Alberta Stedman Eagan who specialized in romantic fiction intended for women readers. The writer of the film’s review in Variety suggested that the studio used the "sexy title for gate appeal…of a so-so flicker". The same concept applies to the book; a "hot" title increases its "cover" appeal to women.

Director Freeland had an undistinguished career. He began as an assistant cameraman in 1926 and advanced to positions as assistant director and production manager before directing his first film, Three Live Ghosts (1929) with youngsters Joan Bennett and Robert Montgomery in the cast. Freeland directed several interesting films in the early thirties, including Whoopee (1930), starring Eddie Cantor, Flying Down to Rio (1933), the first Astaire-Rogers pairing, and George White's Scandals (1934), starring Rudy Vallee, Jimmy Durante, and Alice Faye. In 1934 Freeland moved to England to make a version of Brewster's Millions (1935), starring Jack Buchanan. These films are the best of his career.

During seven years in England, Freeland directed nine films of steadily declining quality. Returning to Hollywood in 1941, he directed two B-level films and then spent several years in war-related work. After the war, Freehand directed three final B-level films and retired in 1950 at age 52. His remaining life seems to have been spent in leisure, occasionally visiting, but not working in, Hollywood. Thornton Freehand died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1987, age 89.

Read our articles about these pre-code films of Loretta Young: The Truth About Youth (1930), She Had To Say Yes (1933), and Employee's Entrance (1933).


They Call It Sin. Variety Film Review. December 13, 1932

Thornton Freeland. in The "B" Directors: A Biographical Directory. Wheeler W. Dixon. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, N.J., and London. 1985

Production Trends. Chapter 7. in Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939. Tino Balio. Volume 5: History of the American Cinema. University of California Press. 1993