Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 11
When it comes to Ann Dvorak, there are two questions I get asked the most. The first is, “Why Ann Dvorak?” and the other is, “What’s your favorite AD film?” Ann made over 50 films in her career, and many of them left a lot to be desired, but there are a few shining gems that in my humble opinion are worth more than one viewing.
Once I drew up the list, I realized they were all from the pre-Code era. Since I don’t want to neglect her later work, I give you these early 1930s gems and will do a separate post for the, um, post-pre-Code films.
Three on a Match
This is this without question my favorite Ann Dvorak film. Not only is it one of the meatiest roles she ever had, but it was also my introduction to Ann and the one that got me started on this crazy ride. It’s only 63 minutes long, but packs in more than most modern films do at twice the running time. Plus, it has Joan Blondell, Warren William, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and a doped up Ann. What’s not to love?
Three on a Match may be my favorite Ann-D film, but when asked what her best movie is, then I would have to go with the 1932 classic, Scarface. Directed by Howard Hawks and starring the versatile Paul Muni, it’s not only a quintessential 1930s gangster flick, but is an overall damn fine film. Cesca Camonte is another strong role for Ann, and she is surprisingly good, considering she was barely 20 when the movie was shot and it was her first actual acting gig in front of a camera. Toss in a coin-flipping George Raft, a saucy Karen Morley, and the always spectacular Boris Karloff, and this one is not to be missed.
I talked about this one a few posts back and even though Ann does not have a large role in it, Heat Lightning is still one of my favorites. It’s another quickie pre-Code that packs a punch in a very short running time. Ann is fantastic as the restless and wistful teenager Myra, but the film belongs to Aline MacMahon as her tough-as-nails older sister Olga. Whenever I have guests over and we feel like watching a quick film, Three on a Match and Heat Lightning are my go tos and are always crowd pleasers.
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain
I don’t think Molly Louvain is one of the stronger pre-Code films, and Ann’s performance is a bit uneven. However, it’s one of the few movies where she is the absolute star with a majority of screen time. I actually love the first half of the movie with Ann as a jilted unwed mother trying to make good in this world, but I think it kind of falls apart once she goes on the lamb, bleaches her hair, and starts verbally sparring with Lee Tracy.
She looks absolutely luminous in this one, which probably had something to do with her falling head over heels in love with co-star Leslie Fenton during filming. The pair would be married within weeks. Molly Louvain is no Three on a Match or Heat Lightning, but it’s still worth a look.
This 1934 flick starring Richard Barthelmess and Ann as Native Americans fighting government corruption and abuse on a Reservation is an interesting film. The subject matter is unexpected and was not explored too often at the time and it makes for engaging story telling. Ann’s role is not much of a departure from her other leading lady parts in Warner films like Stranger in Town or I Sell Anything, but the overall film is much better than many of her 1930s titles and I recommend it.
NOT available on DVD (we’re batting eyelids at you Warner Archive).
Any pre-Codes you think I missed? Make your recommendations in the comments below. Tomorrow, we take a look at some of Ann’s later films.