Ann Dvorak pre-Code Recommendations

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?

Available on DVD.



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.

Available on DVD.


Heat Lightning

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.

Available on DVD.


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.

Available on DVD.



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.


  1. artman2112 January 11, 2013

    i still havent seen Molly Louvain…i think i might watch it this weekend tho, its been sitting here un-viewed way too long! all your other choices are unassailable! i would only add The Crowd Roars to that list because its just such great fun and Ann and Joan Blondell both look ridiculously gorgeous in it.

    i really enjoyed Massacre, Barthelmess is a such a unique presence on film. i watched Heroes for Sale the other night for like the 3rd or 4th time. great film!

  2. admin January 11, 2013

    Oh yeah, you need to watch Molly Louvain. There’s a scene in the first 20 minutes where she plays the piano and does a scat version of “Penthouse Serenade.” Great stuff.

  3. DickP January 12, 2013

    Unfair!! After reading this day comments, I tried to narrow the choice of my favorite Ann Dvorak films down to five. I just couldn’t do it. I have 38 of her credited films (plus five where she wasn’t in the credits); so I started playing small sections of each (I have her films both on one of my computers and also on DVDs). I found there was no way I could shorten the selection down to five no matter how hard I tried – seriously! She presents such a wide range of characters in her own inimitable style that to analyze each performance and categorize same is nearly impossible (for this fan anyway). As an added note, though, I can easily state my favorite film wherein Ann plays straight comedy: “Out of the Blue”. It’s great no matter how many times it’s played.

  4. admin January 12, 2013

    Sounds like I am a much harsher critic than you! I agree that Ann is great in Out of the Blue, but I have a had time watching the movie as a whole which is why I did not include it.

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