The Warner Archive delivers again, and this time in a most unexpected way. The past few months, they have been releasing a steady stream of Ann Dvorak’s Warner Bros flicks from the 1930s. Today, they are offering a Walter Pidgeon/Virginia Bruce two-pack including the 1939 drama Stronger Than Desire, featuring our beloved Miss D.
This M-G-M film about an attorney who defends a woman accused of a murder that may have in fact been committed by his own wife (you got that?), was directed by Leslie Fenton, Ann’s first husband. Fenton had turned in his acting cap the year before, and this was one of his first turns as a feature director. The film is enjoyable enough, and Fenton had the opportunity to direct his wife through a heart-wrenching courtroom breakdown.
I particularly like this film for two reasons. First is the scene where Walter Pidgeon has Ann fake-faint in court. He cues her and she just melts out of the chair and onto the floor. I know it’s supposed to be dramatic, but it’s pretty ridiculous and worthy of a rewind and rewatch. The other reason I find this film memorable (as far as Ann Dvorak movies go) is because she has never looked more beautiful. No studio did Hollywood glamor quite like M-G-M, and it shows. Ann is absolutely luminous, even when she is fake-fainting.
Hats off once again to the Warner Archive for fulfilling the needs of every Ann Dvorak fan, even though they’re probably not doing it consciously.
This week, the Warner Archive makes my holiday wishes come true by adding Heat Lightning to their ever-growing collection.
As I had mentioned previously, Heat Lightning is one of my favorite Ann Dvorak films. This tale of a pair of sisters running a gas station/rest stop in the middle of nowhere (it was actually filmed in Victorville) whose lives are turned upside down by their bad taste in men is classic Warner Bros Pre-Code cinema. Ann’s role is a supporting one, but her Myra, a restless youth feeling stifled by her surroundings and her protective older sister is one of the more interesting characters Dvorak played during her five years at Warner Bros. Her breakdown scene towards the end of the film is heartbreaking and truly memorable.
Of course the film really belongs to Aline MacMahon. As Olga, she is tough, brassy, and independent, but proves to be just as vulnerable as the rest of us when an old flame (and bad penny) turns up on her doorstep. Aline and Ann work beautifully together and are completely believable as sisters. It’s unfortunate that the only other time they appeared in the same film, 1934’s Side Streets, they were given little screen time together.
Directed by Mervyn Leroy (who was also responsible for Three on a Match) and featuring a strong supporting cast of familiar 1930s faces like Glenda Farrell, Lyle Talbot, Preston Foster, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, and Jane Darwell, Heat Lightning is sure to please any Pre-Code fan. Just look at that box art!
This is being advertised as a remastered print, but I am assuming this is the same one that has run on TCM the last couple of years.
Happy Holidays to me. Thanks Warner Archive!
This week, the Warner Archive releases another 1930s Ann Dvorak feature on DVD. College Coach co-stars Dick Powell, Pat O’Brien, Lyle Talbot, and contains a brief walk-on by a then little-known actor named John Wayne.
This makes three 1930s Dvorak films to be released by the Warner Archive in less than a month. Looking forward to what else they have in the works, especially if it’s Heat Lightning.
This week, the grand and glorious Warner Archive releases a handful of two-for-the-price-of-one double features of 1930s comedies. Low and behold, one set features our beloved Ann Dvorak in Side Streets & Stranger in Town.
Side Streets (1934) stars Aline MacMahon as, of all things, a furrier in San Francisco who has bad taste in men, namely Paul Kelly. In terms of Ann Dvorak, Side Streets is wholly unsatisfying because she is barely in it with a minuscule role as the other woman . However, it’s watchable because Aline is so damn good. I am always fixated by how she clutches her purse throughout the film. Even in a scene where she is wearing pajamas, the purse is in hand. This affectation is never explained and I like to think Aline worked out an in depth back-story for her character, complete with poverty and a purse snatching. The working title for this one was Fur Coats, which I think is much more appropriate. Interestingly, the title for the British release was A Woman in Her Thirties.
The other title in the double feature is Stranger in Town co-starring David Manners and Chic Sale. Ann’s part in this one is very typical of the many bland leading lady roles she was subjected to at the hands of Warner Bros. between 1932-1936. In this one, her loyalties are torn between her grandfather and her new love who own competing grocery stores in a small town. This slight comedy was Ann’s second pairing with David Manners in 1932, the first being Crooner. This was also a reunion of sorts for Ann and Chic Sale. When Ann was a wee girl, she accompanied her mother on vaudeville tour in 1914 which also featured Chic on the bill.
The double set can be yours for a mere 19.95 and ordered at the Warner Archive.
The Warner Archive continues its monthly release of uncredited Ann Dvorak M-G-M films by offering This Modern Age, a 1931 feature starring Joan Crawford and Neil Hamilton.
By 1931, the musicals that had become so popular with the advent of sound films were officially out of vogue. M-G-M no longer had much use for Ann’s talents as a chorus girl/choreographer and for some reason, speaking roles were out of the question, so Ann found herself getting cast as an extra in various films. She can be seen at a political rally in Politics, dining at a restaurant in Just a Gigolo, fawning over Robert Montgomery in Our Blushing Brides, and crashing a party in This Modern Age.
She’s actually fairly prominent in the party crashing sequence and she can also been seen early on in the film, dancing with a gent in another party scene. Joan Crawford was good friends with Ann during this time period and tried to persuade the studio to do more with her, but to no avail. A few short months after appearing in This Modern Age, Ann would put her chorus days behind her by being cast in Scarface.
The Warner Archive continues its monthly drain on my bank account by releasing three more films with Ann-D in them.
First up are Lord Byron of Broadway and Chasing Rainbows, two films from Ann’s days as an M-G-M chorus girl. Unlike last month’s release, Love in the Rough, where Ann’s one scene was cut out, I know at least some of her musical numbers are intact in both of these. However, I believe Chasing Rainbows may be missing some two-color Technicolor scenes that Ann appeared in. This now brings the Warner Archive’s total to seven of Ann’s twenty or so uncredited films at M-G-M. I would love to see them release a collection of shorts, since she’s in at least eight of those.
Next up is Midnight Alibi, a 1934 Warner Bros/First National release starring Richard Barthelmess. I commented on this film in a previous post a while back. Midnight Alibi is typical of the thankless roles Ann was playing in the mid-1930s, but it’s one that I have been able to sit through a few times, which is not the case with many of her Warner films. This is the second of Ann’s 1930s titles to be released through the Warner Archive, along with The Strange Love of Molly Louvain. My one gripe is that Helen Chandler is featured on the decorative box art with Barthelmess instead of Ann.
Between these DVD releases and the increased Ann sightings on Turner Classic Movies, 2010 has already been a solid year for the Divine Miz-D.
This week, the Warner Archive releases two more films from Ann Dvorak’s chorus days at M-G-M: So This is College and Love in the Rough, both starring Robert Montgomery, a personal favorite of mine. I have not seen either one of these, so I cannot really comment on them, but judging from still photos, Ann is fairly prominent in the scenes she appears in.
A couple of months back, the Warner Archive released Politics, co-starring Marie Dressler and Polly Moran. I wanted to confirm that Ann was actually in the film before including it here, and even though it’s not a musical, the Divine Ms. D does appear in the crowd of a political rally and is easy to pick out. Politics is actually an early pro-feminist feature and was much more enjoyable than I expected. Marie Dressler is fabulous, as always.
Just a reminder that There’s a Future in It, was released last week through Amazon UK on the Home Front Britain set. My copy should be arriving any day now, and I’ll have a full report after the grand premiere at my place.
That’s all the Ann-D news for now.
Here’s some good news to start off the New Year. There’s a Future in It, a little known film starring Ann Dvorak and directed by husband Leslie Fenton is going to be available on DVD in February, courtesy of the Discovery Channel UK and the British Film Institute (BFI).
This film was included in a series entitled “Home Front Britain” which aired on Discovery UK this past September. The series focused on WWII propaganda films produced to support the British war effort and boost moral. As far as I can tell, all the films included are from the BFI’s archives and are shown in their entirety. An article about the series with a mention of the Dvorak film can be viewed here:
Ann Dvorak left the U.S. for London in December 1940 in order to be near Fenton, a British citizen by birth, who has enlisted in the Royal Navy. She was in the UK until mid-1943 and supported the effort by writing articles for a London-based periodical, driving an ambulance, performing for and visiting troops with Bebe Daniels, and planting victory gardens. While she favored the journalist endeavors, she was first and foremost a film actress, and was inevitably enlisted to go before the cameras.
Dvorak appeared in three feature length films during the War, starting with This Was Paris, produced by former nemesis Warner Bros and filmed at their Teddington Studios. She also made two films costarring Eric Portman which were distributed by RKO. Interestingly, both Squadron Leader X and Escape to Danger are now considered “lost” films. Dvorak’s last war-time title, There’s a Future in It, is actually a short film running around 36 minutes in length. Co-starring Berry Morse and sponsored by the Ministry of Information, the film was produced by the Strand Film Company and distributed by Paramount Pictures, though it does not appear that the film was circulated in the U.S.
There’s a Future in It is so obscure that as of this writing, it doesn’t even have an IMDb entry. Hats off to Discovery UK and the BFI for making this rare piece of Ann Dvorak and British film history available for those in the UK (or with region free DVD players). Home Front Britain can be pre-ordered here:
Happy New Year!
Hooray for the Warner Archive who are releasing Ann Dvorak films on DVD faster than I can write about them.
This week’s offering includes the Strange Love of Molly Louvain, directed by Michael Curtiz and co-starring Lee Tracy, Richard Cromwell, and Dvorak’s soon-to-be husband, Leslie Fenton. It’s standard pre-code dealings with Dvorak bearing a child out of wedlock, hooking up with a thug, getting mixed up in shady dealings, and going on the lamb incognito as a bleached blonde. While it’s not quite as riveting as Three on a Match, the Strange Love of Molly Louvain is one of the few films where Ann is the focus of the film and, as usual, she makes the most of it.
As I discussed previously, the film contains one of my all time favorite Ann Dvorak scenes where she gets to do a scat version of “Penthouse Serenade” and briefly performs one of her own compositions, “Gold Digger Baby.” Molly Louvain is also an important film in the annals of Ann Dvorak history because it’s where she hooked up with Leslie Fenton. The two had met a few weeks earlier on New Years Eve, but the sparks flew on the set of this film and the pair would soon elope to Arizona.
I need to give a quick note of credit to the blog All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! who caught this DVD release before I did.
In light of this unexpected release, I am really looking forward to what other 1930s Warner Bros flicks the Warner Archive has in store for 2010.
Two films from Ann Dvorak’s days as a hoofer at M-G-M are now available on DVD, courtesy of the Warner Archive.
I’ve discussed Hollywood Revue of 1929 previously on this site, which is a star studded wreck of an early talkie, and yet oddly mesmerizing. For Ann Dvorak fans, this film is a must see as the 17-year-old smiles big and dances her heart out in many of the movie’s musical numbers. Plus, she gets two words of dialog and slaps Jack Benny.
I have never seen It’s a Great Life in it’s entirety, so I am excited about this one. The film stars vaudeville darlings Vivian and Rosetta Duncan, popularly known as the Duncan Sisters in what is their only sound film. Production on this one started a couple of days after Ann Dvorak’s 18th birthday, right around the time she was elevated to the position of assistant choreographer to Sammy Lee. Ann is especially prominent in a number called “The Hoosier Hop,” a dance step she supposedly came up with, and she sure does she beam with pride while performing it.
I’ll be wishing myself a Merry X-Mas with these two, and look forward to more of Ann’s M-G-M’s flicks to be made available from the Warner Archive.