Apparently Sweet Music is in the public domain because it is current up on the Internet Archive for viewing (with a TCM logo appearing periodically). This 1935 Warner Bros. musical, directed by Alfred Green and starring Rudy Valle was a personal favorite of Ann’s and one she lobbied hard to get cast in. Between 1932-1934 Ann had done heavy duty dramas or quickie programmers and was anxious to get back to her musical roots from her days as an MGM chorus girl. Having missed out on films like 42nd Street and Footlight Parade because she was playing hooky in Europe with Leslie Fenton, Ann no doubt felt like she had missed out.
The film is certainly higher budget than most of Ann’s Warner Bros. titles and while it’s not as high calibur as the previously mentioned musicals, it has its moments. Plus, a supporting cast featuring Alice White, Allen Jenkins, and Ned Sparks is always delightful, not to mention appearances by torch singer Helen Morgan and Al Shean, uncle of the Marx Brothers.
If for no other reason, Sweet Music is worth watching to see Ann Dvorak hoofing around in a ridiculous bird-like outfit. If you can’t contain yourself, fast forward to 16:18 for a dose of Dvorak bliss.
First off, I apologize for the quality of this video which a friend recorded by pointing his phone at the television. Despite this, isn’t it fantastic?? I imagine this is the first time so many Ann Dvorak clips have been edited together to promote her and the result is simply wonderful. I confess that I started crying the first time I watched it. After spending so many years with this project, it’s overwhelming to know that other people care about Ann enough to deem this book worthwhile.
I haven’t been able to locate a copy of this video on the TCM website, so if you uncover a better copy please let me know!
On a book ordering side note, it looks like Amazon is temporarily out of stock, but the University Press of Kentucky has copies at a 20% discount!
UPDATE 12/1: Special thanks to frequent commenter Dick who provided me with a perfect copy of the promo which is now posted above.
I recently came across this trailer for the 1979 reissue of the 1932 Howard Hawks classic Scarface which also happens to be Ann Dvorak’s first credited roles. There are a few things about this trailer that stick out for me. First is the quality of the print, which is pristine and looks simply gorgeous. Next is that whoever produced this managed to cram damn near every violent scene from this film into two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Finally, I love how the narrator of the trailer doesn’t quite know how to pronounce Dvorak and kind of stumbles over it.
My one gripe is the absence Boris Karloff whose scenes are sparse but delightful as a rival gangster. Otherwise, after watching this teaser, I am ready to fire up the DVD player and watch some Scarface ala Muni.
Ann Dvorak’s mother, Anna Lehr started appearing in motion pictures in 1912. By the time she officially retired in 1927, she had well over 49 credits to her name. As is the case with most titles of the silent era, Anna Lehr’s body of work is largely “lost” with one lone film, The Cradle, existing at the Library of Congress. Every now and then, an alleged copy of a 1928 version of Jesus of Nazareth pops up on eBay or Amazon. I ordered a copy a number of years ago, and it turned out instead to be a much earlier telling of the life of Christ. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I order this copy of The Target, it would not be Lehr and Hobart Bosworth appearing on my screen.
The only footage I have seen of Anna Lehr in action is two seconds, literally, from The Birth of a Race. This film was originally supposed to have presented a sensitive portrayal of African American history as a sort of answer to D.W. Griffith’s controversial 1915 epic, Birth of a Nation. By the time it came out in 1918 money-politics had turned The Birth of a Race into a more general telling of the history of mankind. Supposedly, the film ran around 10 reels, or close to two hours. As far as I can tell, all that now exists is the above 10 minute summary of the film which showed up as an extra on a Birth of a Nation DVD release.
I usually shy away from YouTube clips, which tend to get taken down. Since this one has been on the site since 2007, I am throwing caution to the wind. You can see Anna Lehr’s two seconds of screen time at the 7:19 mark. She’s the one dressed in white and looking appropriately dramatic.
I usually don’t post videos from YouTube here, because the clips tend to get pulled from the site. However, I’m going to give it another shot with this compilation of the best of the Warner Bros. blooper reels.
If I am not mistaken, Warner would put together these reels at the end of the year and show them at an event, like a holiday party. This particular video has selected choice moments over multiple years and includes Bette Davis, James Cagney, Carole Lombard, Errol Flynn – and Ann Dvorak.
At 00:28 into the clip, you’ll see Paul Muni flub a line in Dr. Socrates which cracks Ann up. It’s just a couple of seconds long, but there’s something sweet about her reaction, and there appears to be a genuine affection between Ann and her former Scarface co-star. As far as I know, this is the only Ann clip that popped up on any of these reels. Even though there’s just a couple of seconds of Ann, it’s worth watching the whole thing. Yes, people really did swear in real life during the reign of Joseph Breen!
Special thanks to Ann-D fan, Scott, who reminded me of this special clip!
If there is one thing Ann Dvorak was especially great at, it was dying on screen. Fortunately for us film fans, she had the opportunity to do this on a few occasions. Just a warning that spoilers are ahead as we take a look at divine Dvorak death scenes.
I would imagine few people realize that Ann was only twenty when Scarface was filmed, and that this was her first real acting gig (she mainly just smiled big and hoofed around a bunch of MGM musicals prior to this). While her role as Paul Muni’s kid sister, Cesca Camonte, did not give her a lot of screen-time, it was still an important character in a big movie, with a really dramatic death scene.
The end comes for Cesca as she heroically (or stupidly, or creepily) stands by her big brother as he stands-off against the Chicago police and quickly loses his mind. As the cops riddle Tony’s apartment with a sea of bullets, he is unable to draw the bulletproof window treatments fast enough and Cesca is stricken while loading a gun. Tony’s cowardice emerges, as he seems more concerned with being left alone than with comforting his dying sister. The realization that her big brother is not what she thought he was fills her last moments with fear and disgust.
Cesca’s death could have easily come off as pure camp, but Dvorak’s execution of the scene is impressive. A touch of the melodramatic does slip in when she looks up to the ceiling and calls out the name of her dead husband (Tony’s best friend Guino, who he had killed hours before). I have viewed Scarface a number of times on the big screen, and every time she cries out “Guino! Guino!,” I always brace myself for the audience to start snickering. They never do, which makes me think that at times Ann was a better actress then even I give her credit for.
I am particularly partial to Ann’s untimely death in Three on a Match. This film was the first time I ever encountered Ann Dvorak who quickly mesmerized me with her portrayal of Vivian Revere, a bored-society-wife-turned-cokehead. She meets her ultimate doom by unceremoniously throwing herself out a window to save the life of her son who had been kidnapped by her loser boyfriend in an attempt to collect a ransom from the boy’s father. (Were you able to follow that?)
What’s so striking about this scene are the moments leading up to the big plunge. No attempt is made to make her look like anything more than the worn out drug-addict she has become. She frenziedly attempts to open up windows that have been nailed shut, tries to calmly engage her son in a game of hide and seek so he’ll be safe, and finally scribbles a message on her dirty nightgown in lipstick while frantically praying. The first time I saw this, I was not quick enough to catch onto what she was doing and was shocked when she screams and jumps out of the widow the moment the gangsters enter her room. Her final scene in Three on a Match is disturbing, yet memorable and I became a fan for life.
Ann may not have the main female lead in ‘G’ Men (that honor goes to Margaret Lindsay), but she definitely has the more interesting role. As Jean Morgan, a showgirl whose unrequited love for ‘G’ Man James Cagney leads her to run with the wrong crowd, Dvorak gets to perform a lively musical number and die in Cagney’s arms.
Ann dooms herself to death in this one when she turns coat on her hoodlum hubby (Barton MacClane) in order to assist Cagney on the right side of the law. MacClane has no problem coldly and callously gunning down his wife in a phone booth, which comes as a shock for first time viewers (it did for me at least). Ann gets to have the drawn out death scene which, like Scarface, could be cheesy as all get out, but in Dvorak’s capable hands Jean Morgan’s demise is heartbreaking. When she responds to Cagney’s “I’ll see you later” with a tearful “I won’t be around,” I get welled up every time.
This lackluster western about a Jesse James look-alike (John Ireland) who resurrects the old James gang is one of Ann’s weakest films and she looks kind of awful in it (what’s up with those bangs?). Ann was only three years older than Ireland when this was shot, but the age difference comes off as considerably more (and not in Ann’s favor), and the two have zero chemistry.
Leave it to Ann to redeem this forgettable role with a magnificent death scene. Her character Susan (Sue) Ellen Younger, has few redeeming qualities and spends most of the movie working Ireland for her benefit. In the end, the fake Jesse James gets wise to her backstabbing ways and gives her belly full of led as she is trying to make a getaway on a horse. She slowly sinks to the ground while clinging to the animal, making for a haunting end.
Ok, Ann doesn’t actually die on-screen in this one, but the movie is pretty much un-watchable once she bites it. I think it’s fair to say that the impact her character’s death makes on the entire film warrants inclusion on this list.
As Mary Ashlon, a washed up fashion model at the end of the line, Ann gives an Oscar worthy performance. She is bitter, pissed off, drunk, desperate, and depressed which means she is a fascinatingly fabulous character. Lana Turner actually pales next to Ann in this scene stealing performance that culminates with a soused-up Dvorak tirade about the cruelty of life. The next scene reveals that Ann had subsequently thrown herself out a high-rise window, leaving the viewer wishing for the rest of the film that she had survived the fall.
If Columbia had faithfully adapted this 1936 James Warwick play of the same name, it would have ended with gangster Chester Morris completely losing his mind at the hands of psychiatrist Ralph Bellamy and shooting his devoted partner- in-crime (Dvorak) before turning the gun on himself. Since the Production Code did not allow for so much nastiness, Chester is instead gunned down by the police, leaving moll Ann to cry over his fallen body and depriving the viewer of what could have been a great Dvorak death scene.
This is one of the Ann’s few straight comedy roles, and she does a respectable job as Olive Jenson, a hard drinking, kinda pathetic goofball who latches onto a weak willed George Brent while his wife (Carole Landis) is out of town. I am listing this as an honorable mention because Olive suffers from a heart condition that causes her to pass out, giving the appearance of being deceased. That’s right, she fake dies in this one (and on more than one occasion), but always gets up to have another drink and charm us, the viewer, with this off beat performance.
Just a side note: I was going to try and find these scenes on YouTube, but decided against it because: 1) The clips may disappear at some point 2) I’m kind of lazy 3) You should be watching Ann Dvorak films in their entirety!
A few months back, I was one of many Los Angeles Conservancy volunteers interviewed by Turner Classic Movies for a short piece about the many movie palaces in Downtown Los Angeles, and the annual Last Remaining Seats film series.
Mr. Mankiewicz was nice enough to humor me during the interview and asked questions about Ann Dvorak, which I figured would be cut out of the final product (they were). I still has a lot of fun waxing ecstatic about old movie theaters with the Turner crew.
For the sake of making this a Dvorak related post, I successfully pitched Scarface for the 2007 Last Remaining Seats, which played to a sold out crowed at the Alex Theater in Glendale, CA. My posse and I cheered very loudly when Ann first showed up on screen, which I am sure confused most people in the audience.
I hope you enjoy this mini tour of my city’s movie palaces. By the way, I am the one talking about how cool it would have been to have a grandma get slapped by Joan Crawford on screen.
I love this trailer for Midnight Alibi, mainly because it gives very little indication of what the movie is actually about. The film focuses on Richard Barthelmess, a gangster who is torn between his “job” and his love for an adversary’s kid sister (Dvorak). While on the run, he winds up in the house of a reclusive elderly spinster who convinces him love is the way by telling her tale of youthful sorrow, via a lengthy flashback featuring Barthelmess in a dual role.
The trailer for Midnight Alibi gives the impression that viewers are in for a hi-lar-ious and “swellegent” romantic romp with a “hard-boiled egg” and a “sweet petunia.” In actuality, Ann Dvorak’s role is not a big one and a large chunk of the film is taken up by the flashback, which is not even hinted at in this promo. My best guess is that Warner Bros was attempting to capitalize on the success of Columbia’s It Happened One Night by promoting this as a screwball comedy, which it is most definitely not.
Compared to some of Dvorak’s mediocre Warner films from the period, I actually think Midnight Alibi is somewhat enjoyable, even though her screen time is limited.
Even though Ann Dvorak got her start in the movies as a chorine/assistant choreographer at MGM, she seldom got the chance to showcase these talents once she became a leading actress. Warner Bros did not cast her in any of those early thirties musicals featuring elaborate Busby Berkeley numbers, and when she did work with Berkeley in 1935 on Bright Lights, her dance time was limited. She got to do a bit of hoofing in Sweet Music and Thanks a Million, but her most memorable musical number is probably “You Bother Me an Awful Lot” from 1935’s G Men.
“You Bother Me an Awful Lot” is a fun number with all the girls tossing around some sort of lightweight ball. While Ann is certainly no Ginger Rogers, she is giving it her all and seems to be enjoying herself. Ann and James Cagney are great together, and I know have said it before but it’s really too bad they only made two films together.
Interestingly, producer Hal Wallis did not approve of the production design in this scene. Although he thought the night club should have less class and more grit and did not view the musical number favorably, the club scenes stayed in the film as originally shot. The chorus girl outfits with the stratigically placed tassels would be recycled a couple of months later when Bright Lights was filmed.
Ann Dvorak’s first movie as an MGM chorine was The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The film is basically a vaudeville show featuring Metro players performing skits and musical numbers for almost two hours, with Jack Benny as MC. Hollywood Revue is a great example of the growing pains the industry was going through as it transitioned to sound, and a couple of segments feature early two strip Technicolor. While pretty painful to watch in one sitting, it’s fun enough to view in snippets.
Most of the musical numbers feature the chorus, so Ann can be found hoofing her way across the screen in a big chunk of the movie. She’s pretty easy to pick out and is usually the most enthusiastic member of the bunch.
This clip features a musical number with Conrad Nagel, Anita Page and Charles King, followed by Cliff Edwards singing “Nobody But You.” In between the two numbers, around 3:50 into it, Ann shows up to take a chair off the stage and slaps Jack Benny when he throws her, what I guess is, a pick up line. She was only 16 at the time and it’s impressive that the inexperienced dancer would get speak a couple of words in her first appearance. By the end of the year, she would be become assistant choreographer to Sammy Lee. In the Cliff Edwards number she is visible just to left of him, above his shoulder.