Tarnished Angel (1938)

Tarnished Angel (1938)

Directed by Leslie Goodwins with a screenplay by Jo Pagano from Saul Elkins’s story and adaptation this interesting B movie drama is somewhat similar to The Miracle Woman (1931) and other (later) films of the kind. It begins with the introduction of several ‘shady’ characters and the law and then features a compelling performance from Sally Eilers in the title role as a phony evangelist who changes. Lee Bowman Ann Miller (who sings a song and later dances briefly) Alma Kruger Paul Guilfoyle Jonathan Hale and Vinton Haworth also play key roles. Cecil Kellaway and Byron Foulger also play small but significant cameo parts.

The story begins in a New York nightclub which also has an illegal gambling operation going on in its backroom. Violet McMaster (Miller) is the legitimate club’s singer and her boyfriend Eddie Fox (Guilfoyle) is the quasi-bouncer who “guards” the door between the club’s two halves. Carol Vinson (Eilers) is one of the gambling establishments “hostesses” whose job it is to distract its patrons judgment or at least entertain them so they don’t mind losing their money. Kellaway plays one such gambler Reggie Roland who’s evidently also an important man about town. Carol had been briefly engaged to a drunken jobless playboy Paul Montgomery (Bowman) but his wealthy father paid her off so she jilted him on what was to be their wedding day. While the casino’s owner Checkers (Robert Gleckler uncredited) is paying $12000 for and accepting stolen jewelry from Dandy Bennett (Haworth as Jack Arnold) Carol enters Checkers’s office to warn him of a pending raid by Detective Cramer (Hale) and his men. All the principals are then able to escape with Carol using Reggie dressed as Checkers to lead Cramer astray. By helping to make the police force become the laughing stock of the city and the country Police Chief Thomas (Robert Middlemass uncredited) bumps Cramer down to Sergeant.

Carol Violet and Eddie leave town and try to make a living elsewhere with Eddie trying to manage a dancing gig for Vi but revenge driven Cramer dogs their trail keeping them from finding legitimate work. Nearly penniless and hungry the three venture into a mission where coffee and donuts will be served after the preacher’s oratory. After the 90 minute sermon Carol witnesses the passing of the plate and gets the idea to transform herself (going from a brunette to a blonde) into ‘Sister Connie’. Somehow they’re then able to (scrape up the money to) stage a revival meeting with Carol as evangelist Sister Connie but after counting their proceeds and deducting their expenses they only make five dollars. Carol decides they need more showbiz to succeed and so for her next performance Sister Connie helps a planted fake crippled man (Barry Macollum uncredited) to walk. This show is much more successful so she and Violet and Eddie take their show on the road and the money pours in.

Unfortunately publicity about Sister Connie’s abilities leads to a society columnist’s observation that the evangelist strikes a remarkable resemblance to the formerly notorious Carol Vinson which brings both Sergeant Cramer and Paul to Sister Connie’s next performance. Before the show Eddie sees Cramer telling an unknown woman within a delegation of clergyman about the Sister’s true identity. Though he’s unable to warn Carol before she’s takes the stage she sees Cramer in the audience just as she’s begun such that she changes her normal “speech” to one about her own transformation pointing to Cramer as one who can verify her legitimacy. She even pledges to give 80% of that night’s proceeds to a worthy charity which turns out to be a children’s hospital whose chief benefactor is the unknown woman philanthropist Mrs. Harry Stockton (Kruger). Afterwards Mrs. Harry Stockton who’d been suitably impressed by Sister Connie believing her to be authentic and genuine invites Carol and her friends Eddie and Vi to dinner and later to stay at her country estate.

After seeing the children’s hospital Carol is touched and affected by the experience. About this time she sees Paul again. He’s now working a simple steady low paying laborer’s job but he thanks her for prompting him into it and his sobriety because he’s never been happier. Later Dandy arrives on the scene and tells her that Mrs. Stockton has a valuable piece of jewelry a necklace that’s worth $100000. Feeling that she’s through with the evangelist sham she agrees to help him steal it. Once everything has been arranged Dandy has a duplicate necklace made to substitute for the real thing Sister Connie has to give one last performance (for no apparent reason). But the fake cripple that Dandy had arranged for the show can’t make it unbeknownst to Carol but as Sister Connie she actually preaches enough about faith and belief in one’s self to enable a real cripple in the audience (Foulger) to walk! When Carol learns about what she’s done she’s stunned.

Later at Mrs. Stockton’s home Carol is asked to perform the feat again for one of the children. Though she doesn’t believe she can do it she tries and fails. Meanwhile Eddie was helping Dandy with the exchange about which he Vi and Carol had been having second thoughts. In fact after the failure Carol proclaims that she’s a fake and shouts in front of everybody in the home that she was in cahoots to rob Mrs. Stockton of her necklace. About this time Dandy comes out from behind the curtain in the room’s doorway holding a gun but before anything else can happen Cramer then comes out from behind another. Dandy is arrested but Cramer having heard everything lets Sister Connie go stating that he’d told his chief that Carol Vinson was dead. Naturally Paul and ‘Connie’ will get together too.

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