Pre Code Hollywood Season: FD Cinematheque
Lena Rivers AKA The Sin Of Lena Rivers (1932)
Director: Phil Rosen
Cast: Charlotte Henry, Morgan Galloway, Beryl Mercer, James Kirkwood, John St Polis, Betty Blythe, Joyce Compton, Russell Simpson, Clarence Muse, The Kentucky Singers
Lena Rivers, aka The Sin of Lena Rivers, is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film directed by Phil Rosen based on the 1856 novel by Mary Jane Holmes. Filmed on several occasions throughout the silent era.
Lena Rivers’ mother dies in childbirth, and the child is left to be reared by her grandparents. Years later, her grandfather is reported lost at sea, and Lena and her grandmother go to live in Canterville, Kentucky with John Nichols, Lena’s uncle, despite the objections of John’s wife Mathilda and his daughter Caroline, who think that Lena is illegitimate.
Henry R. Graham, the owner of the plantation next to the Nichols’, seems bothered when he meets Lena. One day, Lena plays with a bunny on the Graham property, and she is horrified when Graham’s ward, Durrie Belmont, shoots it. Although she calls him a murderer, Durrie, who is courting Caroline, becomes attracted to Lena.
Graham takes a personal interest in Lena because she reminds him of a woman with whom he was in love, but who died while he was away, believing he had deserted her. When Lena shows a gift for calming the excitable horse Brimstone, Graham gives her the horse. After Graham introduces her to Durrie, the boy promises never to shoot another bunny and walks her home. Graham throws a party at his manor, but Lena does not come because she does not have a fancy dress, so Durrie goes to her house.
They take a walk, and he kisses her before she goes in. Caroline sees them together and calls Lena an “ungrateful sneak,” then says she takes after her mother, who never married. Lana slaps her and runs crying to her grandmother, who assures her that her mother was married, but that her father left her to die. Graham enters Brimstone in the races for Lena because she has made astonishing progress with the previously unmanageable horse.
When Lena’s grandmother has an attack, Graham, worried about the effect her possible death might have on Lena, mentions to Durrie that he would like to adopt her. Durrie’s jealousy is aroused, as Caroline had earlier implied that Graham and Lena were having an illicit affair. In reality, Graham is Lena’s father. He had married her mother in secret because of his tyrant father, using his middle name “Rivers” as their surname.
His father “shanghaied” Graham to Europe, and when he returned, he learned that his wife had died. Until Lena recently appeared, he had been unaware that he had a daughter. Brimstone wins the race, and Lena is awarded $5,000, but Durrie discovers that Graham told the jockey of his competing horse to let Brimstone win.
Still unaware of Graham’s real relationship to Lena, Durrie, jealous, angry and drunk, proposes to Caroline, who agrees to marry him. Lena’s grandmother dies after realizing that Lena now has enough money to support herself. Shaken by the death, Lena learns about Durrie and Caroline’s elopement and leaves town to make a new life for herself elsewhere after forgiving Graham, who has revealed his secret to her.
Meanwhile, Durrie drives recklessly and his car goes over an embankment. When Graham finds out that Durrie and Caroline are in the hospital, he sends for Lena. While Caroline flirts with a doctor, Durrie learns that Graham is Lena’s father and leaves the hospital to find her and marry her. He gets into a car to find Lena inside, and they hug and kiss.
- Charlotte Henry – Lena Rivers
- Morgan Galloway – Durrie Belmont
- Beryl Mercer – Grandmother Nichols
- James Kirkwood – Henry R. Graham
- John St. Polis – John Nichols
- Betty Blythe – Mrs. Mathilda Nichols
- Joyce Compton – Caroline Nichols
- Russell Simpson – Grandfather Nichols
- Clarence Muse – Curfew
- John Larkin – Lucifer ‘Lucy’ Jones
- The Kentucky Singers – Choir Singers (*Kentucky Jubilee Singers)