Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 17
Ann Dvorak is primarily known as a dramatic actress and rightfully so. From her first credited appearance as an adult in Scarface, to her last in Secret of Convict Lake, the majority of Ann’s roles were serious affairs with her ultimate demise coming many-a-time before the end credits rolled.
Every so often, she would appear in lighter fare such as Friends of Mr. Sweeney, The Bachelor’s Daughters, or Sweet Music. However, there are two films that really stand out for me as out-and-out comedies where Ann was required to pull off a purely comedic role; She’s No Lady and Out of the Blue. Both films are pretty far removed from the usual Ann Dvorak performance, and she would have varying degrees of success in this largely uncharted territory. Today we’ll take a look at the earlier of the two films, the 1937 Paramount feature She’s No Lady costarring John Trent.
Before we get to She’s No Lady, another film worth mentioning is the Hal Roach produced Merrily We Live starring Constance Bennett, Brian Aherne, and Billie Burke which is a full on screwball comedy. However, Ann’s role as the fantastically named Minerva Harlan is so small, that it’s hard to assess her abilities as a funny lady.
She’s No Lady was the first film Ann made after leaving Warner Bros. in December of 1936, where she had been under contract for almost 5 years. Ann had been unsuccessful in her many attempts to get out of the agreement prematurely, which included a drawn out lawsuit, but the studio ultimately did let her go early. Ann was excited to launch her career as a freelance artist, and at first it seemed like things were looking good. B.P. Schulberg signed her up for a starring role, something she rarely had at Warner Bros., and she would be directed by Charles Vidor, husband of her old pal Karen Morley. Plus, this would be her first opportunity to tackle a comedy role.
The final result was probably not what Ann was hoping for, and in my opinion, She’s No Lady is the one film where Ann Dvorak gives a lousy performance. As a jewel thief who goes on a mad-capped adventure and winds up in the arms of a gent she had been conning, Ann spends most of the film ineffectively mugging and trying to make sure we’re all in on the jokes, which aren’t actually funny. This film received some of the worst reviews in Ann’s career, with one newspaper declaring, “Why any one should have bothered to produce ‘She’s No Lady’ will probably remain one of Hollywood’s outstanding mysteries, for the picture has nothing whatsoever to recommend it.” Ann appeared in many mediocre films over the years, but this one is flat out bad and she does nothing to redeem it.
The one thing I can say in the defense of She’s No Lady is that I viewed it under less than optimal circumstances. The only print I know of is a 35mm nitrate one that resides in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. My friend Darin and I made an appointment to view it on a flatbed at a garage-like facility in Hollywood some 7 or 8 years ago. I felt really bad for the guy who had to sit with us the entire time to change reels and make sure nothing caught on fire. Once the film ended, we both looked back at the guy who shrugged and said, “Well, that’s one I never would have seen if it hadn’t been for you people.” I mentioned before that my initial viewing of The Private Affairs of Bel Ami was marred by the poor quality of the print I had. Perhaps my opinion of She’s No Lady was equally tarnished by the conditions in which I viewed it. Maybe it really is a little seen gem in the filmography of Ann Dvorak…but I really doubt it.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Ann’s other funny role, which mercifully is a vast improvement over this first go-round.