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Phil Goldstone
Zita Johann, John Miljan, Alan Dinehart
Writing Credits:
Frances Hyland

Sentenced to death, Nora Moran could gain her release if she revealed a major secret that would hurt those close to her.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 65 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 7/24/2020

• “The Mysterious Life of Zita Johann” Featurette


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The Sin of Nora Moran [Blu-Ray] (1933)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 26, 2020)

Ah, pre-Code Hollywood! Not that “anything went” in the brief period before censorship rules became heavily enforced, but movies enjoyed a looseness that they wouldn’t experience again for decades.

One of the later releases in the pre-Code era, 1933’s The Sin of Nora Moran introduces us to its title character (Zita Johann). Nora finds herself on death row, a place she lands due to a murder she didn’t commit.

Nora knows a secret that she could reveal and obtain release from her fate. However, this would severely impact those she loves, so Nora finds herself with a major dilemma on her hands.

Whereas that synopsis implies we’ll focus on Nora’s current status and her potential fight for freedom, instead the film reveals events in flashback. Rather than look at “current events” with occasional glances to the past, this one proceeds almost entirely as a view of prior actions.

That seems like a cheap technique, one that robs the tale of some urgency. There’s a limited vitality when we see material in this kind of “as told by” scenario, so expect the tale to progress in a lackluster manner.

Not that Sin manages an especially compelling tale anyway, as Nora’s story leans heavily on mopey melodrama more than anything else. We see Nora as a child with a difficult life who struggles to get by as an adult, and we even view an implied rape at the hands of a malevolent circus employee.

All of these elements seem like they should combine for a juicy drama, but no real thrills or passion emerges here. As we watch elements unfold, we wait for something interesting or absorbing to occur, but it never quite does.

The cast doesn’t help the material. Most of the actors seem understated to the point of dullness, while Johann comes across as excessively emotive and wild-eyed.

Maybe Johann took it upon herself to enliven the dreary proceedings all on her own, but she doesn’t succeed. Even at a mere 65 minutes, this slow, bland experience drags.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus C-

The Sin of Nora Moran appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Even for a movie from 1933, this image seemed problematic.

One concern resulted from print flaws, as those appeared throughout the film. The movie tended to exhibit a flickering quality, and occasional batches of scratches occurred. I also noticed a few gate hairs. Some parts of the film came across as pretty clean, but more than a few showed defects.

Sharpness seemed up and down as well. Without much grain, I suspect some noise reduction came into play, and the image could look a bit on the soft side at times.

Still, most of the movie showed reasonable accuracy. I saw no signs of jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent.

Blacks tended to be fairly deep, and low-light shots usually showed reasonable clarity. Given its age, this didn’t become a bad image, but it showed definite issues.

In addition, the movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack also had concerns, and some of these connected to background noise, or the lack thereof. Although one would think an absence of clicks, pops and hiss would be a positive, the audio seemed so free from treble that it could become a distraction.

The track clearly got a lot of “denoising” work, as it largely came free from background issues. This meant a somewhat dull tone, as the processes took away high end.

Not that I expect much accuracy from an 87-year-old recording, but the track tended to seem flat. Speech showed some edginess and the lines sounded a bit muted, but they remained intelligible.

Music showed surprisingly robust low end, but again, highs came across as lopped off and bland. The same went for the occasional effects, as they brought fairly clean but dull material. I’d prefer a track with some background noise if it showed superior life to this one.

One extra appears on the disc: a featurette called The Mysterious Life of Zita Johann. In this 17-minute, 19-second piece, we hear from film historian Sam Sherman.

Sherman discusses his experiences with Sin as well as the life of actor Johann and some aspects of the film’s production. Sherman brings a handful of good notes but doesn’t deliver a ton of insights.

We hear too much about his personal experiences with an older Johann, and we also find too many movie clips. These make this a mediocre reel.

The package also provides a booklet. It includes photos, press clippings and an essay from Sherman. The booklet completes the set well.

A thriller from Hollywood’s “pre-Code” days, The Sin Of Nora Moran promises drama and intrigue it can’t deliver. Sluggish and forgettable, the tale never ignites. The Blu-ray comes with mediocre picture and audio as well as minor bonus materials. Chalk up this film as a dull disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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