If you’re a classic film fan and not aware of John Bengtson, there’s a big gaping hole in your life. John is a rock star film historian. I’d say he’s the David Lee Roth of film historians, and if you’ve seen one of his lectures, you know why. For the last couple of decades, John’s specialty has been identifying precise locations of movies shot outside of studio lots. This happened a lot in the early days of film, particularly in Los Angeles in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. These movies now serve as amazing time capsules of a city that once was.
John focused his earliest efforts on Buster Keaton, which resulted in the book Silent Echoes (Santa Monica Press, 1999). I like to add that the research for that book was done in the dark pre-Internet days without the aid of such online marvels as Google Maps. Plus, his research was conducted largely from his home base in San Francisco! The guy doesn’t even live in Los Angeles and was able to pin-point locations and buildings that no longer exist with hard copy maps and photos, etc. Since then, he’s given the treatment to Charlie Chaplin in Silent Traces (Santa Monica Press, 2006) and Harold Lloyd in Silent Visions (Santa Monica Press, 2011).
Maybe I am not doing John’s projects justice, but trust me, they are incredible. I first saw him lecture at UCLA around 10 years ago and the audience was mesmerized by his weaving though all these different sources to give a visually dazzling presentation that traced the footsteps of these early film giants throughout Los Angeles. When he pieced together three screen captures from different films to create a panoramic image of Downtown Los Angeles, I think we have him a standing ovation. Yeah, it was that kind of crowd.
In the ensuing years I have gotten to know John through my work at the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Leave it to him to teach me a thing or two about Ann Dvorak movies that I did not know. The most recent post on his excellent Silent Locations website focuses on location shots from Three on a Match and G Men. While I figured the kidnapping scene in Match was filmed at Hollenbeck Park, I never caught that the schoolyard scene was filmed at the long-departed Los Angeles High School. I also had no clue that G Men provided a great look at the interior of the long-gone Southern Pacific Depot (yes, there’s a lot of “long gone” in John’s work).
A little birdy told me just this morning that John has another book in the works, and I certainly hope so. In the meantime, check out his books and website and run, don’t walk, if he comes to your town to do a lecture.
It’s been awhile since any Ann Dvorak films have been released on DVD, so hooray to Warner Archive for giving us a Dvorak fix!
This time around it’s Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone, a 1950 MGM mystery/comedy starring James Whitmore and Marjorie Main and directed by Norman Taurog who first worked with Ann in 1933’s The Way to Love. Personally, this is not a favorite of mine, though Ann does get to catch the bad guy, literally with a mink stole. And like I always say, any Dvorak is good Dvorak!
This release is part of a double feature set with the other offering being Having Wonderful Crime with Pat O’Brien assuming the role of Mr. John J. Malone and George Murphy and Carole Landis in support.
I love Los Angeles. It’s been home my entire life and as a fan and researcher of classic Hollywood, there probably isn’t a better place to be. However, there is one great deficiency in my years of living in the City of Angels – I have never seen an Ann Dvorak film at a theater in L.A. The closest I came was around 10 years ago when the American Cinematheque, who programs at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, scheduled a screening of Howard Hawks’ The Crowd Roars from 1932 with Ann, James Cagney, and Joan Blondell. Unfortunately, the theater received a print of the 1938 The Crows Roars with Robert Taylor which we did not find out about until the film rolled and the MGM lion mightily roared, to my extreme disappointment.
Now, this horrible wrong is going to be righted in the best possible way with a screening of Heat Lightning, one of my favorite Ann Dvorak films. This fabulous flick is part of a quadruple “proto-noir” marathon which is closing out the annual Noir City festival presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation at the Egyptian. Also on the bill are The Ninth Guest, Let Us Live, and Safe in Hell, three films I have never seen. All in 35mm!
What could be better than spending an evening watching a favorite Ann Dvorak film in a historic theater full of people? Why, introducing that film of course! That’s right, I’ll be joining Eddie Mueller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation in giving an introduction of my beloved Heat Lightning, which makes me giddy beyond belief.
The full line-up is posted on the Cinematheque’s website. Stop by and say hi if you can!
I Was an American Spy is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, April 9th at 2pm PST.
If you’ve never seen I Was an American Spy, there’s a couple of things it has going for it. It’s one of the few films where Ann Dvorak is the star of the picture and it’s seldom shown on Turner Classic Movies. It was an Allied Artists production, which means it was on the lower budget side, but it’s still enjoyable enough. How can one not like a film that has this much Ann in it?
View of the Egyptian Theatre courtyard while waiting in line for Gunga Din.
At long last, I FINALLY attended (and survived) a TCM Film Fest. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – I live 10 minutes away from Hollywood and have never gone? The inaugural year I was 8 months pregnant and the cost of admission was too steep for a couple of expectant parents. I stayed away the next 4 years because I didn’t want to be away from my daughter for too long, and I didn’t think the cost of the festival pass could possibly be worth it. Boy, was I wrong!
It’s truly amazing when you stop and think about it. Thousands of people from all over the world converging in one location for four days with a mutual love of classic film. Growing up, most of my old movie experiences consisted of hitting the numerous video stores I had memberships to and watching the films at home alone, or dragging my Mom to sparsely attended revivals where a quick glance at the audience could have easily caused one to mistake it for a porno screening. To see so many people gathered at TCM Film Fest is a truly incredible experience.
I love being a mom, more than I thought would be possible and haven’t minded switching priorities over the last 5 years. I even scaled back my Ann Dvorak spending considerably (though I do sometimes think of the Housewife 1/2 sheet and insert that got away). However, I really do miss going to revivals with my classic film partner-in-crime Darin. The festival felt like I was able to make up for some lost time over the weekend. He’s a recap of what Darin and I crammed in over the fest.
I have returned home from the TCM Film Festival (home being only 10 minutes away) and will give a full report as soon as I recover a bit. Who knew watching movies could be so exhausting?
In the meantime, I wanted to plug a lecture I’ll be giving at the Encino-Tarzana Branch Library. Last year, the fine librarians at the branch invited me to do some sort of talk for Women’s Heritage Month. I prepared a slideshow discussing the changing roles of women in the post-War era using images from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Valley Times Collection, which I happen to oversee. That topic drew a whopping 3 people, so when they invited me again this year, I wasn’t taking any chances.
This time I’ll be talking about the pre-Code era and focusing on a handful of actresses and illustrating film clips. If that doesn’t draw more than 3 people, than I don’t know what will! Narrowing down which actresses to spotlight was no easy task though Ann Dvorak was always a shoe-in (was there any doubt?).
The lecture will start at 6:30pm on Tuesday, March 31st. The branch is located at 18231 Ventura Blvd, Tarzana, CA 91356. Full details can be found here.
Hope to see some of you L.A. locals there!
Case of the Stuttering Bishop is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, March 26th at 3:30pm PST
Not traveling to Hollywood for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival? That’s ok because you can spend your afternoon with Ann Dvorak and Perry Mason! Case of the Stuttering Bishop pairs up Donald Woods as the beloved lawyer and Ann as his trusty assistant Della Street. It’s the only time Ann assumed the role, but she’s fun to watch and gives good banter. This one doesn’t get shown on TCM too often, so it’s worth checking out.
Also of note is that this was Ann Dvorak’s last film under her Warner Bros. contract. By the end of 1936, Jack Warner was so anxious to get rid of her, mainly due to a lawsuit against the studio that had dragged on for a good part of the year, that her last paycheck was ready and waiting when shooting on the film wrapped. Oh Ann!
Crooner is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, March 6th at 5:30am PST.
Crooner is a fun little film. True, it’s not earth shattering, Ann is underutilized, and the ending is a bit unsatisfying, but it’s still watchable. Plus, it’s not yet available on DVD, so if you’ve had an interest check it out!
I had started working on this post for what I thought was a week-long Dueling Divas blogathon. Turns out, it was only a day-long event and I stupidly missed it by a few days. Since I had already written most of it before I realized my faux pas, I figured I would post it anyway. Plus, it was an excuse to scan the dozen or so photos from the film that I have purchased over the years which can be perused here.
Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis arrived at Warner Bros. as contract players roughly around the same time, and when the pair appeared in Three on a Match in early 1932, it seemed that Ann was the one to keep an eye on. However, it was Bette who would go on to achieve world-wide fame and immortality as one of Hollywood’s greatest legends, while Ann became more of a cinema footnote.
Their diverging career paths can at least in part be attributed to Bette’s dogged determination to succeed in Tinsel Town, versus Ann’s ambivalence towards her career once she married Leslie Fenton. Both actresses were beautiful in an unconventional way and while each had markedly different acting styles, they were still suited for the same types dramatic roles. Had Ann paid more mind to her career in the beginning, she and Davis may have found themselves vying for the same parts. But, she jeopardized her relationship with Warner Bros. pretty early on by skipping town for an extended honeymoon, so we’ll never know what roles may have been in Ann Dvorak’s future.
Bette Davis had known feuds with actresses like Miriam Hopkins and Joan Crawford, but the few comments she made about Ann only expressed admiration for Dvorak’s skills and empathy for her troubles with Warner Bros. The only time Davis and Dvorak exchanged catty words and narrow glances, was in the 1934 drama Housewife.
Directed by Alfred Green, Housewife presents Ann as the consummate homemaker, George Brent as the wimpy husband who she loves despite his many shortcomings, and Bette as the evil career woman trying to destroy their marital bliss. As I discussed in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, the casting is so on the nose with Ann as the elegant noble wife and Bette as the steamrolling bitch, that I think it would have been way more interesting if their roles were reversed.
In the film, George Brent is only able to succeed as the owner of a PR firm with Dvorak bank rolling him with money she’s been socking away and dolling out constant moral support, while Davis’s brilliant marketing ideas are the ace in his hole. As he achieves considerable success, Davis moves in for the kill and she and Ann become increasingly cooler with each other while battling over the same uninteresting) man.
There is plenty about Housewife to make modern audiences cringe including the notion that homemaker is the most noble endeavor a woman can aspire to while the career woman should beware. I’m not going to give away the ending for those who have not seen it, but I am usually tempted to through my shoe at the screen when the credits role. The most redeeming thing about Housewife are Ann and Bette sparring away, though I think the film would have been much better had they both ditched George Brent and gone into business for themselves.
Last month when I was in Hawaii, I journeyed to an antique shop on the North Shore to buy the remaining items that once belonged to Ann Dvorak. The owner of the shop had obtained the contents of Ann’s storage unit following her death in 1979, and while most everything had been destroyed in a hurricane, he still had a stack of photos. Over the last 11 years I purchased a bit at a time (there were no deals to be had from this fella) and at long last the whole stash is finally mine! The final purchase consisted of a fat stack of duplicate 8×10 prints that I am guessing Ann kept on hand for autograph requests. The photos are matte prints, five different poses from the mid-1940s and in decent condition.
As a professional archivist, there is a part of me that thinks I should keep the photos together. At the same time, I really don’t need this many duplicate prints and in all honesty, I don’t think anyone is going to come along who will research Ann Dvorak more than I have. So, I have decided to make the prints available for those who would like to have something that had been personally owned by Ann.
I did have to fork over a decent amount of cash for these, so I can’t give them away. However, after collecting on Ann for over 17 years, I think my asking prices are fair, and damn low compared to some dealers. The prices on the individual prints ware based on how many of each I have, and all 5 poses can be purchased as a set for a reduced rate.
Enjoy, and thanks!