Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 21
The Way to Love was the first film Ann Dvorak made after returning from her lengthy and unauthorized European honeymoon with Leslie Fenton. Considering Warner Bros. had purchased Ann’s contract from Howard Hughes for a whopping $40,000 right before she took off, you’d think they would have put her back to work as soon as she returned in order to start making some of that money back. Instead they let her stew for awhile and finally loaned her out to Paramount for The Way to Love.
Like many Paramount features of the early 1930s, The Way to Love is an odd film starring Maurice Chevalier as a Parisian native who wants nothing more than to be a paid tour guide in the City of Lights. Ann Dvorak is a forlorn gypsy girl who Chevalier tries to rescue from an abusive ward.
Like I said, it’s odd but watchable and Ann’s character has a biting cynicism not seen in many of her characters so early on in her career. My print of this one is a VHS copy that stinks, so I would love to see an official release.
Likelihood of an Official DVD Release: Paramount films are not easy to come by and I doubt this is at the top of any release list, so a DVD is pretty unlikely.
As a whole, Crooner is a fun film. Mind you, it’s no Duck Soup or Animal Crackers, but this quickie programmer about a bandleader who turns into a diva once he discovers that singing through a megaphone makes the ladies swoon, is definitely worth watching. However, when it comes to Ann Dvorak, it falls into the “What Were You Thinking Warner Bros?” category.
After strong appearances in The Crowd Roars and The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, Warner Bros. downgraded her screen time with Love is a Racket followed by the thankless Stranger in Town. The studio altered its course by casting her as the sassy Nordie Lord in Cabin in the Cotton, but abruptly changed their minds and gave it to Bette Davis. Instead, Ann got Crooner which meant another routine leading lady role opposite her Stranger in Towncostar, David Manners.
Judy in Crooner does have some spunk and Ann gets to give Manners a well-deserved tongue-lashing after his ego has gotten out of hand, but it’s still a fairly thankless role that many Warner contract actresses could have stepped into. Despite its shortcomings as a decent role for Ann, I’d still like to see it available.
Likelihood of a DVD Release: I think it’s a possibility from the Warner Archive. A decent print is around and has been screened on TCM, so fingers crossed.
The availability of Ann Dvorak’s films has grown exponentially since I first discovered her in 1995. At that time, I saw Three on a Match, Scarface, G Men…and nothing else for a couple of years until Turner Classic Movies did as tribute to Ann in the fall of 1997. Nowadays, a decent chunk of her filmography is readily available, largely due to the efforts of the Warner Archive, but there are still quite a few I would love to see on DVD.
So, I have committed to posting about Ann every day this year, so that’s a lot of content to come up with. After composing ten film recommendations in two posts, I realized I stupidly blew a chance to have 10 separate posts. Therefore, brace yourself for the next few days as we explore DVDless Dvorak films.
Up first is a film I have brought up on a few occasions which is the 1934 Warner Bros. feature Massacre starring Richard Barthelmess and Ann Dvorak as Native Americans fighting injustice on a Reservation. It’s not a ground breaking part for Ann who plays the supportive love interest, a role she played countless times, but it’s an interesting film overall and one I have been able to watch multiple times.
Likelihood of a DVD Release: A little bird recently told me that this one is in the can and on its way very soon!
Yesterday, we took a look at Ann Dvorak’s first turn as a purely comedic actress in the 1937 Paramount feature, She’s No Lady. Unfortunately, this first attempt, which also marked the launching of Ann’s freelance career turned out to be one of her biggest onscreen disappointments. Following that turkey, she stuck to drama, the notable exception being a miniscule role in the 1938 screwball comedy Merrily We Live.
Ten years after this ill-fated turn at comedy, Ann took another stab at it with much better results. The 1947 Eagle-Lion production Out of the Blue gave Ann another chance as a funny lady, and this time she excels as the loveable but often inebriated Olive Jensen. Overall, Out of the Blue, which features Turhan Bey, Virginia Mayo, and George Brent more prominently than Ann is a moderately entertaining film made more watchable by Dvorak’s unexpected performance. In fact, one of my all time favorite Dvorak moments comes early on in the film when a tipsy Ann converses with Brent and has the following exchange:
DVORAK: You know, brandy is very good for my heart. My doctor says that it’s a vascular dilator. And my heart is liable to stop like that if I don’t have brandy periodically.
BRENT: You don’t think you had too much?
DVORAK: Not too much – or I couldn’t say “periodically.”
For the role, Ann adopted a quirky twang to her normally clear and distinct voice and she is delightful throughout. Ann was definitely cast against type in this one, as was Carole Landis who plays Brent’s stern shrew of a wife. Even Turhan Bey, who was usually cast as “exotic” villains got to play the romantic lead for a change.
I had the opportunity to meet Virgina Mayo a few years back, and when I asked her about Out of the Blue, she responded, “It wasn’t really much of a picture.” She may have been right, but it’s entertaining enough and proved that when given the right role, Ann Dvorak could shine as a comedienne.
Ann Dvorak is primarily known as a dramatic actress and rightfully so. From her first credited appearance as an adult in Scarface, to her last in Secret of Convict Lake, the majority of Ann’s roles were serious affairs with her ultimate demise coming many-a-time before the end credits rolled.
Every so often, she would appear in lighter fare such as Friends of Mr. Sweeney, The Bachelor’s Daughters, or Sweet Music. However, there are two films that really stand out for me as out-and-out comedies where Ann was required to pull off a purely comedic role; She’s No Lady and Out of the Blue. Both films are pretty far removed from the usual Ann Dvorak performance, and she would have varying degrees of success in this largely uncharted territory. Today we’ll take a look at the earlier of the two films, the 1937 Paramount feature She’s No Lady costarring John Trent.
Before we get to She’s No Lady, another film worth mentioning is the Hal Roach produced Merrily We Live starring Constance Bennett, Brian Aherne, and Billie Burke which is a full on screwball comedy. However, Ann’s role as the fantastically named Minerva Harlan is so small, that it’s hard to assess her abilities as a funny lady.
She’s No Lady was the first film Ann made after leaving Warner Bros. in December of 1936, where she had been under contract for almost 5 years. Ann had been unsuccessful in her many attempts to get out of the agreement prematurely, which included a drawn out lawsuit, but the studio ultimately did let her go early. Ann was excited to launch her career as a freelance artist, and at first it seemed like things were looking good. B.P. Schulberg signed her up for a starring role, something she rarely had at Warner Bros., and she would be directed by Charles Vidor, husband of her old pal Karen Morley. Plus, this would be her first opportunity to tackle a comedy role.
The final result was probably not what Ann was hoping for, and in my opinion, She’s No Lady is the one film where Ann Dvorak gives a lousy performance. As a jewel thief who goes on a mad-capped adventure and winds up in the arms of a gent she had been conning, Ann spends most of the film ineffectively mugging and trying to make sure we’re all in on the jokes, which aren’t actually funny. This film received some of the worst reviews in Ann’s career, with one newspaper declaring, “Why any one should have bothered to produce ‘She’s No Lady’ will probably remain one of Hollywood’s outstanding mysteries, for the picture has nothing whatsoever to recommend it.” Ann appeared in many mediocre films over the years, but this one is flat out bad and she does nothing to redeem it.
The one thing I can say in the defense of She’s No Lady is that I viewed it under less than optimal circumstances. The only print I know of is a 35mm nitrate one that resides in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. My friend Darin and I made an appointment to view it on a flatbed at a garage-like facility in Hollywood some 7 or 8 years ago. I felt really bad for the guy who had to sit with us the entire time to change reels and make sure nothing caught on fire. Once the film ended, we both looked back at the guy who shrugged and said, “Well, that’s one I never would have seen if it hadn’t been for you people.” I mentioned before that my initial viewing of The Private Affairs of Bel Ami was marred by the poor quality of the print I had. Perhaps my opinion of She’s No Lady was equally tarnished by the conditions in which I viewed it. Maybe it really is a little seen gem in the filmography of Ann Dvorak…but I really doubt it.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Ann’s other funny role, which mercifully is a vast improvement over this first go-round.
If you’re actually following my day-to-day Ann Dvorak odyssey, you’ll recall I have absolutely no memory of purchasing this poster, which I recently found in a drawer while looking for something else. I went back and looked up the auction info, and in my defense I bought this a month after my daughter was born. This gives me a free pass on many levels, including paying $131.45 for it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful poster and at this point in her career Ann usually wasn’t so prominently featured. However, I’m pretty sure I would not have paid that much if I wasn’t in a postpartum, sleep-deprived state! What really stings is that another copy sold a year later for $26, though it was in lousy condition whereas mine is in tip top shape.
Since I have committed to blog about Ann Dvorak for the next 349 days, please let me know if there is some area of Dvorakiana you would like me to discuss, please let me know! Otherwise, you are going to be getting a lot of posts about the items in my collection.
I love magazines and have since I was a kid and dreamed of owning vintage copies of Life and Look. I felt as if I discovered my own hog’s heaven when I stumbled upon place in Anaheim called the Book Barron which had a whole large room devoted to old back issues of periodicals. In fact, that’s where I found my first magazine with Ann Dvorak on the cover sometime back around 1998. Sadly, the Book Barron is only an online entity now, but I still have that copy of Motion Picture with Ann on the cover and have acquired many, many more in the ensuing years.
He is a sampling of some of the Dvorak magazines in my collection. You might notice a couple of things. 1) The foreign magazine market sure seemed to pay more attention to Ann than those in the States. 2) There sure are a lot of issues with Maurice Chevalier on the cover from The Way to Love.
The issues of Motion Picture and Movies pictured here are in fact the only two American magazines I have found. One of the key things to realize about the career of Ann Dvorak is that she skipped town on her Warner Bros. contract before she had a chance to become a big star. Even though she worked at the studio for a few years after returning from this extended honeymoon, Warner Bros. never really promoted her career, which might explain why she did not get on the cover of titles like Photoplay and Modern Screen (as far as I know).
If these magazines are any indicator, it sure seems like Ann had a decent following outside the U.S., not to say anything about Chevalier’s popularity.
I bought this Massacre lantern slide early on in my collecting days, probably around 1998 or ’99. It was an eBay purchase, and I remember being really excited when I won it, because at the time I didn’t own anything from the film. Mind you, I had no idea exactly what I was purchasing. I just knew it was an object with Ann Dvorak made up like a Native American, and that was good enough for me.
Then the package came in the mail, and I was dumbfounded to find a small piece of glass mounted in cardboard frame. This was my first encounter with a lantern slide and in my naive youth could not figure out what this thing was, or what it was used for.
Lantern slides first showed up in the mid-19th century as a way to project photographic images to a large audience. They were used a variety of ways, like to illustrate songs for sing-alongs or the presentations of stories. If I am not mistaken, Charles Dickens would use lantern slide illustrations while reciting some of his works to audiences. Some of the “magic” lantern projectors were so sophisticated they could make the slides seem animated. Once the movies came to prominence, the slides would be used to promote coming attractions, which is the purpose of the Massacre slide.
These slides stuck around a long time as an advertising medium. In the years since I was first exposed to them, I have purchased around twenty from Ann Dvorak films. The earliest I have is from the 1917 feature The Man Hater, which includes a six-year-old Ann (sorry, I’m saving that one for the book), and the latest is from 1950’s Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone.
To honor my birthday tomorrow, the IFC Center in New York will be screening Three on a Match at 8:00pm. OK, the part about them doing it for my birthday isn’t true and as I live 3,000 miles away and will be at Disneyland with my daughter, I will not actually be attending. However, I heartily encourage all you New Yorkers to go in my stead. Three on a Match is my favorite Ann movie, and I have never experienced on the big screen, so take advantage of this gift, if you can!
Yesterday, I complied a list of my top five favorite Ann Dvorak films. However, after coming up with my titles, I realized they were all from the pre-Code era. Not wanting to ignore Ann’s later work, I have put together, in no particular order, some recommendations for her post pre-Code period.