The availability of Ann Dvorak’s films has grown exponentially since I first discovered her in 1995. At that time, I saw Three on a Match, Scarface, G Men…and nothing else for a couple of years until Turner Classic Movies did as tribute to Ann in the fall of 1997. Nowadays, a decent chunk of her filmography is readily available, largely due to the efforts of the Warner Archive, but there are still quite a few I would love to see on DVD.
So, I have committed to posting about Ann every day this year, so that’s a lot of content to come up with. After composing ten film recommendations in two posts, I realized I stupidly blew a chance to have 10 separate posts. Therefore, brace yourself for the next few days as we explore DVDless Dvorak films.
Up first is a film I have brought up on a few occasions which is the 1934 Warner Bros. feature Massacre starring Richard Barthelmess and Ann Dvorak as Native Americans fighting injustice on a Reservation. It’s not a ground breaking part for Ann who plays the supportive love interest, a role she played countless times, but it’s an interesting film overall and one I have been able to watch multiple times.
Likelihood of a DVD Release: A little bird recently told me that this one is in the can and on its way very soon!
Yesterday, we took a look at Ann Dvorak’s first turn as a purely comedic actress in the 1937 Paramount feature, She’s No Lady. Unfortunately, this first attempt, which also marked the launching of Ann’s freelance career turned out to be one of her biggest onscreen disappointments. Following that turkey, she stuck to drama, the notable exception being a miniscule role in the 1938 screwball comedy Merrily We Live.
Ten years after this ill-fated turn at comedy, Ann took another stab at it with much better results. The 1947 Eagle-Lion production Out of the Blue gave Ann another chance as a funny lady, and this time she excels as the loveable but often inebriated Olive Jensen. Overall, Out of the Blue, which features Turhan Bey, Virginia Mayo, and George Brent more prominently than Ann is a moderately entertaining film made more watchable by Dvorak’s unexpected performance. In fact, one of my all time favorite Dvorak moments comes early on in the film when a tipsy Ann converses with Brent and has the following exchange:
DVORAK: You know, brandy is very good for my heart. My doctor says that it’s a vascular dilator. And my heart is liable to stop like that if I don’t have brandy periodically.
BRENT: You don’t think you had too much?
DVORAK: Not too much – or I couldn’t say “periodically.”
For the role, Ann adopted a quirky twang to her normally clear and distinct voice and she is delightful throughout. Ann was definitely cast against type in this one, as was Carole Landis who plays Brent’s stern shrew of a wife. Even Turhan Bey, who was usually cast as “exotic” villains got to play the romantic lead for a change.
I had the opportunity to meet Virgina Mayo a few years back, and when I asked her about Out of the Blue, she responded, “It wasn’t really much of a picture.” She may have been right, but it’s entertaining enough and proved that when given the right role, Ann Dvorak could shine as a comedienne.
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.