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August 9th is Ann Dvorak Day on TCM

Oh Turner Classic Movies! As if I needed another reason to love you. The schedule for their annual Summer Under the Stars month, in which an actor is featured each day in August, had been posted and the 9th is all about Ann Dvorak. That’s right, there is actually going to be 24 hours of Ann Dvorak films being broadcast.  The last time I remember TCM giving so much love to Ann was back in the fall of 1997, and even then it was maybe six or seven movies that were shown. This time around, they will be airing sixteen of Ann’s films.

There will be some old friends, like Scarface, Three on a Match, and G Men, along with seldom aired Warner Archive titles like Side Streets, Stranger in Town, and I Was an American Spy. I am especially excited for a few films that are neither available on DVD, nor recently shown, including Sweet Music, Massacre, Gentlemen Are Born, and Friends of Mr. Sweeney.

This will come one week after what would have been Ann’s 100th birthday, and I cannot think of a more appropriate tribute to her. As the day gets closer, I will post more in depth info about the films being shown. In the meantime, the full schedule for the entire month can be found here.


Ann Dvorak Makes TCM’s List of 10 Great Overlooked Performances

To coincide with the launching of Hollywood’s awards season, Turner Classic Movies has released what they describe as an “authoritative list” that “sets out to recognize performances that didn’t get widespread awards recognition.” Included are instantly recognizable names like Marilyn Monroe, Vincent Price, and Tyrone Power. Imagine my surprise and glee to see Ann Dvorak listed for her role as the doomed Mary Ashlon in 1950’s A Life of Her Own.

As I have discussed in the past, Ann’s performance in this M-G-M Lana Turner feature is the one she should have received an Oscar nomination for. Her aging, down-on-her-luck fashion model is in the film for less than 10 minutes but her impact is immediate and lasting, long after she exits the story via a high-rise window. While it’s frustrating that this performance did not receive award recognition at the time, what’s really disheartening is that she would only make a handful more films after this before retiring from entertainment in 1952. As riveting as she was in early performances like Scarface and Three on a Match, these later roles pairing years of experience with her natural abilities really demonstrate the depths of her talents and leave us wishing she would have stuck around just a little bit longer.

Hats off to the fine folks at TCM for recognizing Ann Dvorak and giving her some much deserved laurels.

Click here to see the full list of TCM’s 10 Great Overlooked Performances.

“Heat Lightning” on DVD from Warner Archive

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!

“Crooner” on TCM

Crooner is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 21st at 7:35 EST.

By the time she was cast in Crooner, Ann Dvorak had turned out stellar performances for Warner Bros. in the Crowd Roars, Strange Love of Molly Louvain, and Three on a Match. That the studio would give her a role as insignificant as the one in Crooner may be kind of a head scratcher, but this was actually quite typical of Warners. Top billing one day and fourth billed the next.

Despite Ann’s meager role, I actually like this goofy film in which David Manners becomes heartbreaking radio-darling of a crooner because his weak voice sounds silky smooth when he sings through a megaphone. Fame goes to his head and he becomes intolerable to his band mates and his lady love (Dvorak), and for some reason, his new-found popularity makes him really, really effeminate. The movie is so ridiculous, that it’s actually a lot of fun.

While Ann doesn’t have a whole lot to do in Crooner, she does get one big scene, telling off her prima dona boyfriend with more conviction than the film deserves. No matter how poor the role, she always gave it her all.

While Crooner had aired on TNT way back when, I don’t believe it has gotten much (if any) play on TCM, so this is a rare opportunity to check out this minor, but quirky film.

“Strange Love of Molly Louvain” on DVD

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.

“A Life of Her Own” on TCM

A Life of Her Own is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, July 7 at 3:30pm EST

If there was ever a film Ann Dvorak deserved an Oscar nomination for, it’s A Life of Her Own. This George Cukor melodrama, starring Lana Turner as an aspiring fasion model facing the hurdles of her chosen profession is drawn out and hard to get through, but contains one of Ann’s most memorable performances.

As Mary Aslon, a washed up model in the process of crashing and burning, Ann has very little screen time (a friend once clocked all her scenes as coming in at under ten minutes total), but her presence resonates throughout the entire film. Turner may have been the star of this movie, but Ann Dvorak walks off with it. Her wiry thin frame and elegant posture make it easy to believe she could have once been a top model, but her desperate drunken pathos lets us know right away that she is not long for this world. When she does make the big plunge out of a high rise window (shades of Three on a Match), we are still shocked by this abrupt demise and spend the rest of the film wishing she had survived the fall.

By the time Ann Dvorak was cast in this M-G-M production, she was almost forty and had been making movies for over twenty years. This is the performance of a seasoned professional at the end of her career, but it leaves me wishing she would have stuck around a few years longer.

Ann Dvorak Twofer on TCM


Case of the Stuttering Bishop is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, July 1 at 4:30pm EST

‘G’ Men is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, July 1 at 11:00pm EST

Two Ann Dvorak movies airing on one day is a rare treat indeed, and Turner Classic Movies is doing just that to kick off the month of July. Since the films are on over seven hours apart, I am forced to admit the this Dvorak Double Feature (of sorts) is probably just a coincidence, but that should not diminish our excitement over a double dose of Dvorak.

First up is Case of the Stuttering Bishop, where Ann plays the loyal Della Street to Donald Wood’s Perry Mason. This was the last of six Perry Mason films Warner Bros (First National if you want to be technical) made in the 1930s. Warren William played Mason in the first four (Ricardo Cortez played Perry once as well), and after the way Ann treated him in Three on a Match, it would have been great to see them paired up again, playing radically different characters than before.  I have to admit that it has been years since I have seen this one, and I don’t remember much about it. I recall enjoying it well enough, thinking Ann did not have enough to do, and being pleased that there really is a stuttering bishop (who might turn out to be a fake, but I don’t quite remember). One other thing that stands out for me about this movie is that Ann wears a blond wig for about five minutes, yet the three lobby cards I have from this film are from that one scene.

Case of the Stuttering Bishop was the last film Ann Dvorak made at the Warner Bros studio. She had battled them in court for the first half of 1936, trying to get out of her contract for, what she deemed to be, an unwarranted suspension. She lost the case and was loaned out to RKO for a couple of films while Warners tried to figure out what to do with her. They ultimately decided she was not worth the effort, and after casting her in Midnight Court and Case of the Stuttering Bishop, let her out of her contract early. Filming on the Perry Mason film wrapped up in December of 1936 and her last paycheck was ready as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. Talk about not letting the door hit you on the way out.

‘G’ Men has aired a number of times on TCM and I have discussed it previously. Just a quick recap: Cagney and Ann are great together, but do not share enough screen time, her song and dance number is a lot of fun, and her death scene is magnificent.


Thoughts on “I Was an American Spy”

When I first became interested in Ann Dvorak, I did not have much trouble locating copies of her movies. Fellow fans like Laura Wagner over at Classic Images generously shared their personal film libraries with me and visa-versa. Despite this network of cinefiles, a few Dvorak titles proved to be elusive, with I Was an American Spy topping the list followed by Gangs of New York and She’s No Lady.

After a few years of searching I managed to finally track down a copy of Gangs of New York and was able to view UCLA’s nitrate print of She’s No Lady. My expectations for both these films ran pretty high as I hoped they would prove to be little seen gems. Turns out, they’re both kind of lousy. Gangs of New York centers on Charles Bickford playing two unrelated characters who happen to be identical (a plot device that irritates me to no end). Ann has limited screen time and is subjected to supremely unflattering hair, make-up, and costumes. The film could have been slightly redeemed by a hair-pulling catfight between Ann and Wynn Gibson that was filmed but, alas, ended up on the cutting room floor. She’s No Lady was the first film Ann made after leaving Warner Bros and is actually worse than the mediocre fare she was subjected to at the Burbank studio.  The film wants to be a screwball comedy, but falls flat and is one of the few times Ann turns out a less than stellar performance.

Other than three supposedly “lost” British films from the war years, I Was an American Spy was the last title on the Dvorak filmography I needed to view. Over the years dozens of people have contacted me looking for a copy. Some have relatives who were in the film or are related to the real-life participants the story was based on, while many others had seen the movie when it was released and have fond memories of it. I was anxious to view it not only because it was Ann’s favorite role, but also because I have more memorabilia from this title than any other.  After nearly a decade of searching for a copy of I Was an American Spy, I now am a proud owner, courtesy of the Warner Archive.

The big premiere was spent with my husband Josh and my friend Darin who has been with me through the whole Ann Dvorak journey, including the ill fated She’s No Lady viewing at a warehouse in Hollywood. Expectations were running low, and I braced myself for another disappointment as the Allied Artist logo came on the screen. I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised.  After a slow start, I found myself  really engaged by the end of the movie. No, it is not a high budget flick and the use of stock footage is a bit excessive, but it is a showcase role for Ann and she makes the most of it. She  goes from being vulnerable and lovestruck to hardened and vixenish, with an appetite for revenge. She slaps and gets slapped, is tortured with a hose, sentenced to death, does a fan dance on the drop of a dime (sadly, we only get a tiny taste of this) and performs a heartfelt rendition of “Because of You.”  I think this is the most substantial part she ever played in terms of screen time and it’s easy to see why she favored this role.  It’s a riveting performance, and is right up there with Three on a Match and Scarface. She looks gorgeous in the dolled-up nightclub scenes.  I Was an American Spy would prove to be Ann’s last hurrah, as she only made one more movie, the Secret of Convict Lake, where she has a standard supporting role.

After ten years of waiting to see I Was an American Spy, Darin and I were satisfied, but such a build up left us both feeling like the whole experience was a bit anticlimactic. My husband thought the film was “lousy” and I realize that I have yet to subject him to the many mediocre roles that comprise the career of Ann Dvorak. Compared to the majority of films that Ann made between 1933-1951, I Was an American Spy is a high mark.

As far a quality goes, the DVD is completely bare bones but the print looks nice enough. Considering I would have spent a couple hundred bucks for an ultra low quality copy, and was on the verge on scheduling a $500 screening on the Warner lot, $19.95 was a steal for this and worth every penny.

“The Long Night” on TCM

The Long Night is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, March 20th at 8:00pm EST

By the late 1940s, Ann Dvorak had pretty much been relegated to supporting roles. While she generally no longer had the name above the title, these later films gave her the opportunity to play some colorful characters which resulted in memorable performances. In the Long Night she plays an assistant to the domineering magician Maximilian (Vincent Price). She has a soft spot for blue collar Joe (Henry Fonda) whose romance with a fragile girl (Barbara Bel Geddes) causes him to cross the temperamental magician.

Her character, Charlene, is hardened but sympathetic and Ann more than holds her own while sharing the screen with Price and Fonda. She was a naturally talented actress, but always benefited from working with strong directors (Howard Hawks, Mervyn LeRoy, George Cukor) and Anatole Litvak is no exception.

The Long Night is a gritty, but stylish noir thriller, and even though Ann Dvorak does not have a lot of screen time, it’s still worth watching.

Divine Dvorak Death Scenes

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.

Scarface (United Artists 1932)

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.

Three on a Match (First National/Warner Bros 1932)

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.

‘G’ Men (Warner Bros 1935)

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.

The Return of Jesse James (Lippert Pictures, 1950)

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.

A Life of Her Own (MGM, 1950)

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.


Blind Alley  (Columbia 1939)

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.

Out of the Blue (Eagle Lion, 1947)

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!