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It is doubtful if, at this point in time, anyone needs to be reminded of the consistent excellence of the versatile Irene Dunne, whose presence enhanced drama, comedy and musical films for many years. ANN VICKERS recalls to us how effective her subtle talent was even early in her career, playing a character alternately strong and vulnerable in a story too crowded with incident to give its major players the room they require to draw the characters fully. As a capable and resolute professional woman involved in social work and prison reform, Dunne's title character is curiously susceptible to the less-than-worthy men she finds more appealing than the steady earthbound types she encounters but does not favor. This contradictions accounts for a large part of the interest in her character, discreetly but firmly abetted by the nuances of yet another outstanding performance. Irene Dunne is perhaps the most reliable of all leading ladies. If you share the admiration of many for her work, this somewhat obscure picture will not disappoint you.
"Ann Vickers" is an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' book about an unwed
worker who becomes pregnant during World War I and is subsequently
by her lover. It is a valuable social commentary on the mores and folkways
of the time (1933) and explores the double standard then existent that
condemned a woman for `loose living' while exonerating a man. The most
interesting aspect of the film to me was the fact that it was almost a
mirror's image of the sea change that took place in morals during 1920's in
the aftermath of World War I.
RKO couldn't have picked a better actress to play the part of Ann Vickers. Irene Dunne was young, sensitive, brave, intelligent everything the `modern woman' of the day was supposed to be. Her early professional career was marked by a series of skillfully done tearjerkers of which "Ann Vickers" is one of the better ones.
I highly recommend this movie. Walter Huston did a fine job as Ann's second love, and the man who restored her faith in a loving relationship. It's well directed and filmed and is a wonderful insight into life in the U.S. from just after World War I up until the middle of the Great Depression.
To call Ann Vickers a women's picture may technically be accurate--it was, indeed, adapted by Jane Murfin, also responsible for 1939's The Women--but it's much more than that. Quite simply, this is one of the best dramas ever produced in Hollywood. Written with delicacy and tenderness, yet planted firmly in the cruel realities of life, Ann Vickers includes a tour de force performance by Irene Dunne, ably supported by the wonderful Walter Huston as her lover, and Conrad Nagel and Bruce Cabot as would be paramours. There are some incredibly powerful moments here, especially during the prison scenes, and Dunne and Huston are magical whenever they're on screen together. Certainly daring by the standards of the time, Ann Vickers is a refreshingly honest and still topical masterpiece.
This is what a woman's film ought to be in this era, not just 70 years ago. The Ann Vickers character is a strong woman devoted to her career and to those who depend on her at the women's prison. She is not without her flaws as any hero or protagonist, but she overcomes so many obstacles and definitely has control over her life. What has happened to strong and complex female roles in modern motion pictures? This movie is well acted, well-written and has a tremendous message. I recommend it to anyone who can get their hands on it, as I believe it is still not available on video. It ranks up there with Norma Shearer's character Jerry in "The Divorcee" as far as a well-developed complex strong female characters. We need more movies depicting our gender this way not just as sex objects but as sexual subjects, with career goals and sex drives. Watch this movie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Essaying the title role in Ann Vickers, Irene Dunne who was never less
than noble on screen manages to make a virtuous woman out of someone
who has two illegitimate kids.
Even in the days before the Code this was pretty heady stuff for Hollywood to be coming out with. Then again, novelist Sinclair Lewis was never anything but controversial in what he gave the American public. In fact his own relationship with newspaper columnist Dorothy Thompson parallels the one that Dunne has with Walter Huston in the film.
We first meet Ann as a social worker at a settlement house before World War I where she has eyes for one special doughboy, Bruce Cabot even with lawyer Conrad Nagel panting hot and heavy for her. Cabot proves to be something of a rat and impregnates her, but the child is a stillborn.
Ann is a role model feminist, a former suffragette who went to prison for the franchise. She's a career person first and she moves on to various jobs in the penal system, including running a women's prison. She becomes a best selling author and eventually falls in love with married judge Walter Huston with whom she has another child. Then Huston gets himself in a jackpot, but Irene also stands by her man.
I've not read the Sinclair Lewis novel, but just viewing the film you could tell an awful lot was left out. Possibly a great deal of this film wound up on the cutting room floor. Edna May Oliver has a fine part as Dunne's mentor, but she's abandoned a third of the way through the film and we don't know what happened.
Dunne does well in a role that Katharine Hepburn would have hit a home run with and she does get good support from the rest of the cast. Still this abbreviated version of Sinclair Lewis leaves a lot to be desired.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film starts out wonderfully. The protagonist, Ann Vickers, is an
independent woman, a suffragette pursuing a career, a woman who knows
her mind and is determined to lead a life without a man's stamp of
approval. She even has two illegitimate children. For 1934 this was
definitely forward thinking, even dangerously revolutionary. And so the
first half of the film goes on this vein with Ann being refreshingly
modern. I suspect that many women viewers identified with her dreams
And then the story grinds to a halt and Ann's life comes apart, and all because her lover, a corrupt judge, is convicted and sent to jail. When she is forced to abandon her career it is made eminently clear that she owed her success to her once influential lover. All her hard work amounted to nothing once her powerful protector disappeared. Moreover, she betrays her own ethical standards by pleading for her lover's freedom. So the implication is that love is the paramount motivating factor in a woman, and Ann is reduced to a stereotype. She even waits for her man to get out of jail and learns to cook for him.
Frankly I felt betrayed. I became involved in this woman's life and cheered her on only to discover that Hollywood lacked the courage to present a truly alternative lifestyle. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. After all 1934 was the year the dreaded morality code went into effect. Still, "Ann Vickers" would have been a much better film if they had left well enough alone.
Ann Vickers (1933)
** (out of 4)
Static version of Sinclair Lewis' play has Irene Dunne in the title role of a social worker who gets dumped by an American soldier (Bruce Cabot) and then puts all her attention on her work. She eventually falls for a controversial judge (Walter Huston) but this here might cost her everything she's worked for. This RKO film was produced by Merian C. Cooper the same year he made King Kong but that's the only thing the two films have in common. Dunne is good in her role but the film is all over the place and it's easy to see that the film is trying to cover several parts of the book but can't take everything in within the short running time. Huston stays under control and gives a winning performance as does Cabot and Conrad Nagel in his supporting role. Edna May Oliver and J. Carrol Naish also have small roles.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Merian C. Cooper replaced David O. Selznik as production head of
RKO, he continued the habit of acquiring literary works for filming.
"Ann Vickers" was one of Sinclair Lewis' most controversial books that
covered such "hot topics" (for the time) as abortion, women's voting
rights, sex and divorce, not to mention a realistic appraisal of life
in a women's prison. It was written in 1933 and by the end of the year
had been turned into a glossy woman's picture starring an intelligent
actress who was making Martyrdom movies her own domain - Irene Dunne.
This is a super movie - why don't they make movies like this anymore!
Yes, it is a women's picture but not the sudsy "Mrs. Miniver" type that
would become popular in the 1940s. Superlative Irene Dunne makes you
believe in every scene she plays.
"She's going to make the world over - if it takes all winter" says Malvina (wonderful Edna May Oliver) of her friend Ann Vickers (Irene Dunne). Social worker Ann has a passion for helping people and when she meets disillusioned soldier (Bruce Cabot, playing a heel as usual) she spends a blissful week, with promises of marriage when he returns from the front. His letters become less frequent and when they accidentally meet at a restaurant, she realises that he has forgotten all about her. After her baby dies, she finds a job at a women's prison. Copperhead Gap Prison is grim,especially under Captain Waldo, a lecherous "Simon Legree" type, who yearns for the "good old days" of public floggings with the cat 'o nine tails and other nice amusements!!! Ann is appalled at the harsh treatment the women receive - she witnesses lashings, even hangings and when she is forced to leave writes a best seller that exposes the conditions of prison life. The publicity helps her secure a job as Governor at Styvessaunt Industrial Home. "I'm going to get you off the snow - cold turkey" (words I never thought I would hear Irene Dunne speak), "Show a little respect - I'm a A.M. and a Ph.D, - Well, I'm only a A.B.A. and a SOB" -the racy dialogue sprinkled through the film shows it was made in pre-code times - There's even a joke about going "cold turkey" later in the film.
At a party she meets Judge Barney Dolphin - it is nice to see Walter Huston playing a pretty down to earth guy for once - yes, he is a Judge, but he is certainly not stern or forbidding. He is the man who, through his high praise, helped make her book a best seller and when they meet there is an instant attraction. Ann has found her soul mate - they are both intelligent and have high ideals. He is married - to a grasping woman, who prefers to live abroad and will not give him a divorce. they embark on a relationship and when he is sent to prison, by standing by him Ann loses her prestigious appointment. Trying to get friends to rally around her, she has a showdown with Lindsay Atwell (Conrad Nagel), an old admirer and a part that probably made more sense in the novel. Ann is reduced to writing articles about prison reform from her small upstairs flat and when Barney is released, finds Ann and their little boy waiting for him.
With other stars, this film may have been maudlin - but the superior acting skills of Dunne and Huston make this an extremely fine movie. J. Carroll Naish has a "blink and you'll miss him" part as a drunken doctor, Gertrude Michael has a small scene as Barney's wife and if there is a prison matron in a movie, chances are it's Mary Foy.
Highly, Highly Recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a bad film, as its central message is very muddled and the plot
seems like it was the result of merging several disparate scripts. As a
result, it often makes absolutely no sense at all and certainly is not
a film Miss Dunne or Mr. Huston should have been proud of making.
However, the film IS worth watching if you are a fan of "Pre-Code"
films because it features an amazingly sleazy plot that strongly says
that nice girls DO put out--even if they aren't married and even if
their partner IS!!
The film begins with Miss Dunne as a social worker assisting troops heading to Europe for WWI. In the process, she meets a scalawag (Bruce Cabot) who eventually convinces her to sleep with him. She becomes pregnant and he then goes on to the next unsuspecting woman. However, Miss Dunne does NOT want him back, as she realizes he's not worth it, but later her baby dies at child birth. While all these very controversial plot elements are used, they are always alluded to--almost like they wanted the adults in the audience to know but hoped that if they phrase it or film it in just the right way, kids in the audience will be clueless (after all, films were not rated and kids might attend any film at this time).
Surprisingly, this entire plot involving a stillborn baby and Cabot ends about 1/4 of the way through the film and is never mentioned again or alluded to. It was as if they filmed part of a movie and abandoned it--tacking it on to still another film. In this second phase of the film, Miss Dunne unexpectedly begins working at a women's prison (though we actually never really get to see her doing anything there). What we do see are countless horrible scenes of severe abuse and torture that were probably designed to titillate. And, as a result of all this violence, Miss Dunne goes on a crusade to clean up the prison and becomes a reformer and famous writer.
But then, out of the blue, another type of film emerges and the women's prison reform business goes by the wayside. Dunne meets a judge (Walter Huston) who is married but he desperately wants her. Now throughout the film, Dunne is portrayed as a very good girl--even though she did have unmarried sex with Cabot (she was more or less tricked into it). But now, single Irene, who is a tireless reformer and good lady begins sleeping with a married man. He tells her that he and his wife are estranged and are married in name only, but she never thinks to investigate if this is true, and with his assurance, off flies her clothes and they are in the baby making business! BUT, while she's pregnant with his love child, he's indicted for being a crooked judge. He assures her he's innocent, but he's convicted and it sure sounds like he's a scoundrel--using inside information from people that have come before his bench in order to amass a fortune. Then, in the final moments of the film, Miss Dunne tries in vain to get him freed and vows to wait with the child until Huston is released. The film then ends.
So, we basically have three separate films AND a bizarre early 30s idea of what a nice girl should be like. I gathered that she should be a strong-minded working girl who instantly becomes an idiot in her personal relationships! This really undoes all the positives about Dunne's character and it's really hard to imagine anyone liking the film. A strong women's rights advocate might easily be offended at how weak-minded and needy she was and religious people might see her as totally amoral or at least morally suspect! With a decent re-write, this could have been a good film or at least interesting as a lewd and salacious film, but it couldn't make up its mind WHAT it wanted to be and was just another dull Pre-Code film.
Lackluster romantic drama with feminist elements. Basically it's Irene Dunne spouting off about wanting to have her own career and being involved in relationships with douchebags. All of the success she has career wise is ultimately attributed to a man and the film's message seems to be that a woman's happiness only comes from the love of a man, so I really don't see where feminists are supposed to find much to love about this film. The brief middle part of the film dealing with the brutal goings-on at a women's prison are most interesting. They should've made an entire film of that. The rest is forgettable. The cast is fine. No standouts. Edna May Oliver is wasted, which is just criminal.
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