Following a path charted centuries ago by medieval scholastics, The Seven Deadly Sins slips deftly and incisively through the traditional septet of human failings: avarice, anger, sloth, lust, envy, gluttony and pride.
Unlike its predecessors, this new grand tour is never moralistic, never theological, always entertaining. The sins, presented as vignettes, are made by six groups of the finest cinema talent of France and Italy, and the framework for their presentation is a carnival doll representing each. A glib barker, Gerard Philippe, goads the crowds to knock each doll off its pedestal, and as each falls, the scene fades into the filmlets.
Three of them are serious in tone-lust, envy, and pride. Roberto Rossellini's Envy, based on a story from Collette, is a frightening study of a wife's insane jealousy of her husband's cat. Orfeo Tamburi gives a sensitive portrayal of the artist husband, while Andree Debar powerfully plays the sulking, possessive wife who brings to her marriage little more than her physical appeal.
Claude Autant-Lara's Pride is memorable for the curiously objective method used by the director in his examination of a mother and daughter recently driven from a high position to poverty, both too proud to accept the sympathy or help of others. Autant-Lara's camera consciously stays outside his characters, giving the picture a two-dimensional effect that emphasizes the flat drabness to which the women have been reduced. Michele Morgan gives a hauntingly acute performance as the daughter impervious to either kindness or insult, and Francoise Rosay is suitably haughty as the mother.
Lust, directed by Yves Allegret, is a penetrating look into early adolescence. A young girl, delicately played by Francette Vernillat, thinks her admiration and affection for an artist will cause her to bear a child. Director Allegret adds tremendous tension to the story by directorial touches such as focusing the camera on a run-down phonograph while the child's widowed mother and her lover are alone in an adjoining room.
When The Seven Deadly Sins first came to this country, some critics objected to Gluttony as mere filth. True, the story is only the retelling of a bawdy tale, but it is done so skilfully as to be delightful. Henri Vidal is riotously pompous as the traveling salesman who passes up a chance to sleep with a beautiful farmer's wife for a piece of cheesecake.
In Avarice and Anger, a greedy landlord and his angry wife engage in a bitter quarrel over money the husband has taken from a poor tenant. The rather contrived ending, however, is a weak point.
Sloth is a witty tale of the chaos brought on when everyone in the world is made lazy. Jacqueline Plessis is charming as the ingenue sent from Heaven to slow down the pace of everyday life.