Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 12
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.
This 1939 Columbia flick is one of the three Ann made with the studio at that time. Based on a play by James Warwick, this psychological drama had a hell of time getting past the censors and onto the screen. Ultimately, it’s a watered-down version of the source material, but still enjoyable. Ann looks stunning, after appearing less than glamorous in a couple of Republic films, and this is one of the few times she gets to play a bad girl. I’ve watched this one a few times, and cannot get enough of Ralph Bellamy screwing with Chester Morris’ id.
Girls of the Road
This is another one of Ann’s Columbia films and I love it, and have watched it many times. I wrote about it before, and am going to steal from myself at this time:
It has everything one would expect from a movie called Girls of the Road. Yes, there’s girls and they’re on the road. They’re angry, distrustful, and hard. They get thrown in jail, turn on each other, and sometimes make bad decisions like spending money on a wedding gown instead of a train ticket out west. Lola Lane is a hard-ass, Helen Mack is weary but hopeful, and Ann Doran is kind of a hag. Ann Dvorak is their savior as the governor’s daughter who sets out to understand the plight of the female hobo by pretending to be one of them. She hits the road in a sparkling white overcoat and it’s downhill from there.
Sadly, NOT available on DVD.
Flame of Barbary Coast
This is the first film Ann made after returning from three years in England during the War. Unlike her first two outings with Republic in Manhattan Merry-Go-Round and Gangs of New York, she really got the star treatment in this one. With elaborate costumes and a few full-blown musical numbers, Ann shines as “Flaxen” Tarry opposite John Wayne and Joseph Schildkraut. This may not have been the most notable film for Republic or the Duke, but it’s a major role for Ann and includes a respectable recreation of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
Private Affairs of Bel Ami
This is a film I first watched probably 1o years ago and was not impressed. However, the copy I had was terrible and the diminished quality really affected my opinion. About a year ago, a really nice print became available for streaming on Netflix and I gave it another viewing. This time around, I was absolutely engaged and ended up watching it twice within a few days. George Sanders is delightfully evil as he sleeps his way up through Parisian society and Ann is stunning as the intelligent and progressive Madeleine Forestier. Additionally, the set designs are striking and the costumes gorgeous.
I Was an American Spy
This 1950 Allied Artists production was Ann’s penultimate performance and her personal favorite. Based on the real life exploits of “Manila Mata Hari” Clarie Phillips, it’s probably the most substantial part of Ann’s career in terms of screen time. I am not overwhelming bowled over by this film and wish one of the bigger studios would have produced it. However, if that were the case Ann probably would have not gotten the part. The first time I watch this film was before I became a mother and the second time was after. During that second viewing, I could not help but notice how passionately Ann acted opposite her onscreen husband, Douglas Kennedy, but how indifferent she seemed to be towards Nadine Ashdown as her young daughter. This was something that really bothered me that second time around as I could not fathom a mother getting separated from her child and being rather unaffected. Weird analysis? Probably.
Despite any misgivings I may have about I Was an American Spy, it’s still a significant film in the career of Ann Dvorak and worth watching.
Honorable Mention – A Life of Her Own
No discussion about Ann Dvorak the actress would be complete without mentioning A Life of Her Own. It’s one hell of a performance and I’ll go three rounds with anyone who thinks she did not deserve a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. However, I personally find the film largely unwatchable, despite having Lana Turner and Ray Milland in it, so I recommend the first twenty minutes or so until Ann throws herself out a high-rise building. After that, you can turn it off and stick in the Three on a Match DVD.
Not available on DVD.