When I first discovered Ann Dvorak around 1995, finding copies of her movies was an exercise in futility. Other than Three on a Match, Scarface, and G-Men, I was sunk and my quest to become better acquainted with Ann the actress remain unfulfilled. Eventually, I made the right connections and entered the network of classic film fans who readily produced VHS copies of films in their personal libraries. These would be swapped for titles they had been unable to find or even sent out at no charge except for the cost of postage. I was really impressed by how generous these fans were in wanting to share classic films, but the one downside to this system was the quality of the prints. These would frequently be copies taped off of TNT, with the commercials crudely edited out. I am guessing by the time I received some of these Dvorak titles, they were 10th generation copies and were barely watchable because the quality was so bad. This could sometimes taint my perception of the film itself. For example, the first time I watched my lousy print of The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, I thought it stank. Years later, when a good copy showed up on one of the streaming services, I discovered that I in fact loved it, and it remains one of my favorite Ann Dvorak films.
I am hoping this is the case with I Sell Anything, which is going to be released later this month via the Warner Archive on the Forbidden Hollywood Volume 9 set. I have watched this yarn twice and absolutely hated it both times. Well, hate may be too strong a word, because I really found it too boring to stir up an emotion as intense as hate. Still, it is one of my least favorite Dvorak films.
The first viewing came sometime around 2003 when I initially got my hands on a copy. The second time was nearly a decade later when I had to revisit I Sell Anything in order to write about it in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. I don’t recall too much about the film, other than thinking that watching Pat O’Brien as a con-man should be way more interesting, and that this film might be the biggest waste of Ann’s talents that Warner Bros. subjected her to. She has very little to do, and I am under the impression that her part was hastily added after the script was done. A lot of her dialogue seems like it was taken from the supporting male cast and passed along to her, and she serves very little purpose other than giving the film a pseudo happy ending. I had similar feelings the first time I watched Gentlemen Are Born, mainly due to how Dvorakless it is, but eventually came to appreciate its reflection on the struggles of college graduates in an extremely depressed economy. I don’t think I Sell Anything has as much interesting social commentary to offer. My mom was with me for the second viewing, and halfway through she turned to me and said, “Gee, this isn’t very good, is it?”
I Sell Anything has not been shown on TCM recently, if ever, so I am interested to hear what people think of it. I don’t remember the film being deliciously pre-Code, so I was actually surprised to see it on the set, alongside:
• Mervyn LeRoy’s BIG CITY BLUES (1932, Warner Bros) w/ Joan Blondell, Eric Linden
• Rowland Brown’s HELL’S HIGHWAY (1932, RKO) w/ Richard Dix
• Michael Curtiz’s THE CABIN IN THE COTTON (1932, First Nat’l) w/ Bette Davis, Richard Barthelmess (Ann was originally pegged for the Davis role!)
• Harry Beaumont’s WHEN LADIES MEET (1933, MGM) w/ Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy
Despite any misgivings I have about the film, I will be purchasing the set on October 27th and revisiting I Sell Anything, in hopes that a good print will render it more enjoyable. Plus, like I always say – any Dvorak is good Dvorak and it’s always great to check off one more title on her filmography that fans are able to see.
Extra special thanks to the always special Will McKinley for breaking this story in Social Media Land, last night!