Toni DuBois (Nancy Coleman) is celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans with friends when she meets a handsome soldier named Dick Connolly (Phillip Reed). He’s on a blind date with another girl, but spots Toni from across the room and is instantly smitten.
After dancing and flirting, Toni and Dick leave the restaurant and spend the night together. The next morning, Dick proposes. Toni is hesitant to get hitched to a man she just met, so she agrees to meet him back at the restaurant in six weeks to give him her answer.
Toni becomes convinced, however unlikely it may be, that she did fall in love with Dick during what little time they spent together. But what will become of the couple when Dick’s leave is cancelled and he doesn’t show up to receive Toni’s answer?
Her Sister’s Secret was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, based on the novel Dark Angel by Gina Kaus. This film was restored and preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive after the original nitrate negative was found.
*NOTE: The review section of this post contains a more in-depth discussion of the film’s premise. I don’t consider these to be spoilers, as they can be found in any other site’s plot synopsis of the film. (IMDb, TCM, and Wikipedia all include this information in their brief synopses!) I chose not to discuss these details in my plot synopsis for those who may be hearing of this film for the first time through my review, and want to go into it with a little more mystery. Read with caution below and on other sites if you’re the type who wants to know very little about the plot before watching a film!
Her Sister’s Secret, as the Lifetime-esque title would suggest, is about much more than just a soldier and his sweetheart torn apart by a cancelled leave. Toni discovers that she’s pregnant, and she never received Dick’s letter regarding his cancelled leave, so she believes he wants nothing to do with her. She turns to her sister (Margaret Lindsay) — a married woman, who will be able to raise the child as her own — for help. Things get complicated when Dick returns, as in love with Toni as ever.
It’s a real wonder that this film wasn’t canned or dramatically altered by the censors, though it was apparently banned in Ireland (according to Wikipedia, which cites Kevin Rockett’s book Irish Film Censorship). No one in the film judges Toni for the fact that she’s pregnant; the film simply deals with her decision to give the baby up, and the repercussions of that decision.
The way that the film handles the topic of unwed pregnancy is unique among classic films that cover the same topic, which lends the film a sense of realism not present in heavily-moralistic tellings of similar tales. Toni’s decision, however complicated, is one that actually seems like a plausible solution in a world where unwed mothers were ostracized.
That being said, the film is just good — not great. The performances are decent but not particularly gripping. With such a heartbreaking premise, the film’s emotional impact isn’t very strong. Still, it’s worth a watch for a unique (and, for 1946, unexpected) take on a familiar topic. The score: 3/5