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Edmund Goulding produced, wrote and directed this peculiar melodrama about a suicidal woman in love with an alcoholic man, both treated by psychiatrist Ann Harding. The woman is Maureen O'Sullivan, who took an overdose of drugs because she loves Louis Hayward, who drinks too much and doesn't seem to care about her. So far, so good; it's probably happened many times in real life. But I winced when I saw how Harding handled it. Her idea was to get Hayward to stop drinking, virtually ignoring O'Sullivan's total dependence on Hayward's love to keep on living, instead of trying to get at the root of that dependence. Harding herself has some problems being in love with Herbert Marshall, who wants to marry her, but also wants her to give up her practice and become a homemaker, which she is not willing to do. This was the 1930's, after all, and men behaved that way. Harding gets Hayward to go to a rehabilitation center. He goes on the wagon for months, but becomes attached to Harding. She reminds him that O'Sullivan is as dependent on him as he is on herself. Her treatment works in that Hayward eventually marries O'Sullivan, and the pair seem to be happy. But not for long. O'Sullivan senses that not only does her husband love Harding, but also that she loves him. In a very dramatic scene, she accuses Harding of this and Harding can't deny it, but ponders what to do to keep their marriage intact.
A female psychiatrist in the 1930's eschews marriage for the indefinite present to the male doctor that she is in love with, a man of great character who waits only for her and who courts her constantly. She fears that marriage will mean no career (1930's women's issue)and she is excited about the newness of psychiatry and her potential. He refers to her the case of a suicidal social lite who is in love with an alcoholic. She succeeds with them both, only for an imperceptible attachment to the alcoholic to emerge full blown, to her embarrassment. The young alcoholic openly professes his love for the one who healed him, and the suicidal social lite, now wife to the alcoholic, expresses her venom. In a classic scene of timeless relevance, the psychiatrist does not reciprocate her obvious feelings, but dies to them, pressing the now sober young man not to relapse, and pressing him to be the strong one for his new bride as she, the doctor, has been the strong one for him as her patient. She tells him that "doing what is right" has its own "greater ecstasy." The young couple reunite happily, and the psychiatrist finds that the steady, true love of her doctor friend holds up through the obviously painful ordeal. 1930's culture and women's issues should not blur the impact and powerful relevance of the theme of dying to self interest to find fulfillment on a higher level.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ann Harding plays a psychiatrist, Dr. Mary White, in a relationship
with Dr. Gordon Phillips (Herbert Marshall). They are at a costume
party, and it is most amusing to see them talking over the serious
issue of how Phillips wants to marry Mary but wants her to give up her
career in the bargain. I think Marshall still has his plastic clown
nose on as they discuss this outside in the dark, with the party going
And then a complication. Mary has a new patient whose problem is...I really don't get it. Maureen O'Sullivan plays Linda Belton, a poor little rich girl who is suicidal because she is in love with a poor little rich guy (Louis Hayward as Jack Kerry). In one really over the top scene she opens the windows in Mary's office and tries to jump out, but Mary stops her. Note: probably not a good idea to have unlocked windows in a high floor office if you are a psychiatrist.
Does the rich guy not love her? No, that's not the problem. Instead Linda is hysterical because Jack cares for absolutely nothing and is a hopeless alcoholic. Maureen O'Sullivan as Mary is playing a girl of about 20 or so, so my advice would be - get a grip, make some chamomile tea, throw this fish back in the sea, go find someone else without what could be a lifetime of baggage. In a year you won't remember his name. But then we would have no movie.
Now the scenes that follow, between Mary and Jack as she guides him through leaving alcohol behind and finding something in life he wants to do - remember this is the Depression and most people just want to EAT - are the best scenes in the film. She really does lead him out of the fog. He marries Linda, but he is still in love with Mary, because she is the woman who really understands him. Linda acts as unlikable as a jealous wife as she did as a hysterical would-be suicide. But perhaps that was because all of the medical and psychological effort so far has been on keeping Jack on the wagon and getting him motivated to work, while nobody bothered to deal with the fact that Linda was so emotionally needy that having a particular person in her life was literally a matter of life and death. But I digress.
Hayward and Harding have a very genuine scene in which they discuss their feelings. In the end, Hayward stays with O'Sullivan. Of course he does. This is the production code era! People only left their spouses and lived happily ever after or rejected motherhood for career until 1934! Now I say the scene is great, but I really mean the lines and the performances are terrific. In reality I can't get over the fact that Harding and Hayward look every day of their eight year age difference, even though Harding retains a chiseled timeless beauty here at her actual age of 34. Then there is the fact that Hayward has been acting the boyish youth this whole time while Harding is behaving like the mature woman in the prime of life. I just couldn't see it working or even the attraction, especially from Harding's character's perspective.
Don't get the idea that I don't like the performers in general. This was just a year after the production code started, and thus women could only be traditional, everybody had to be honorable or else be struck by a meteorite in keeping with wrongdoers being punished, and don't you dare mention that any of this looks trite compared to the problems of people facing starvation in the Depression or else you might start a revolution! It was about another five years before American cinema got the hang of having characters behaving like living human beings again without violating the code, so I'm going to land this mess in the lap of Joe Breen, head censor at the time.
The film "Nightmare Alley" was a masterpiece of its time, with the
content and theme of that film, the psychoanalysis and hypnotism as
well as substance abuse issues. (Tyrone Power starred). So going into
this film, one would expect an interesting theme on psycho-analysis
(buregeoning practice at this time) and Goulding himself reportedly had
several varied personal experiences with therapy, which is why his
films are also intriguing.
Maureen O'Sullivan as suicidal socialite, and therapy patient. Anne Harding (who was also in "Prestige" with Melvyn Douglas an interesting film.) While you may watch this and try to make sense of the theme, it is probably a better idea to simply watch the players. Ann Harding as female psychiatrist has a few decent lines here . ..." to do something for a higher cause, other than ones self, is to gain insight"... .
However, the speech comes off as odd as she is counseling alcoholic patient and playboy Louis Hayward to stay with his suicidal girlfriend. Overall no resolution here, just unusual characters and a few archaic references to women's roles at the time, although Harding portrayed a believable portrait of a repressed female psychiatrist here.
While a bit convoluted the sets are interesting, the costume ball with Louis Hayward dressed as a harlequin, for example. Overall interesting if a bit inchoate. 8/10.
New York City "nerve specialist" (which means psychiatrist) Ann Harding
(as Mary White) returns the love declared by physician Herbert Marshall
(as Gordon Phillips), but she declines his offer of marriage because
Ms. Harding wants to focus on her career. Marriage means Harding would
assume the "housewife" role exclusively. After Mr. Marshall tends to
suicidal young Maureen O'Sullivan (as Lillian Belton), he recommends
Harding see Ms. O'Sullivan professionally.
Harding meets O'Sullivan as she is trying to kill herself yet again, by jumping out a window. The two women take a cigarette break. Then, Harding decides the best way to stop O'Sullivan from killing herself is to have regular sessions with no, not O'Sullivan, but her handsome young boyfriend. Yes, Harding figures she needs to cure O'Sullivan by making alcoholic Louis Hayward (as Jack Kerry) stop drinking. Things get complicated when a new love relationship forms...
Harding barely gets through this story, with her elbow often protruded and some emoting close-ups. Marshall tries to maintain dignity, against all odds. O'Sullivan is pretty. While lower-billed, Hayward unexpectedly becomes the story focus. A-list director Edmund Goulding was successful enough to write, produce, and direct "The Flame Within" at MGM, but psychiatry based on seeing a patient's alcoholic boyfriend seems unprofessional. Some of it is unintentionally funny.
**** The Flame Within (5/17/35) Edmund Goulding ~ Ann Harding, Herbert Marshall, Louis Hayward, Maureen O'Sullivan
If one can get over the initially dated mores that this film begins
with (a woman giving up her career on marriage) this is actually a very
moving drama with much modern relevance.
Doctor Mary (Ann Harding) rejects marriage with Doctor Gordon (Herbert Marshall) because he expects her to give it all up on marriage. I wonder frankly if this seemed partly as silly in the 1930s as it does now. Either way, try to stomach your way through this first part because it gets very interesting as the plot progresses.
Doctor Mary helps Linda (Maureen O'Sullivan) who is suicidal over her not-very-much-requited love for Jack (Louis Hayward), an alcoholic. Doctor Mary's treatment is to send Jack away to dry out and get a job. Unfortunately, as is not uncommon with doctors/counsellors and patients, Jack falls in love with Mary. As is also not completely unknown, though hopefully considerably more rare, Mary also falls in love with Jack.
Fortunately choosing to follow professional ethics and common sense, she does the right thing, and rejects him. While this may have been for Hays Code reasons at the time, it reflects modern ethics pretty well. The denouement would have been far less palatable if she had ended up giving up her profession for a younger, alcoholic, former patient.
Doctor Gordon is sufficiently handsome, noble and intelligent throughout most of the rest of the film, that it's not a bad consolation that Doctor Mary ends up with him.
Linda, on the other hand, is the last person you'd encourage an alcoholic to marry or vice versa. One can't help but regard her marriage with Jack with a sadly cynical eye. She's a pretty awful person (a convincing performance by O'Sullivan).
This is a poignant film that has a lot of relevance for today. It has been described as a melodrama, but it's really simply a rather elegant and restrained drama. Highly recommended if you can find a copy or catch a viewing. I bought a DVD from a company that specialises in rare films.
I'm confused by the TCM production notes which refer to PCA concerns over "indication of effeminacy in the portrayal of Ramos". I'm not sure what character this refers to but there is no character or actor named Ramos in this film, nor any theme of "effeminacy" (by which I assume they refer to homosexuality). The quote comes from a book about the Catholic Church and Hollywood, and I suspect it has been taken out of context in some way, or the book errs.
This story boasts some impressive credentials, being written and
directed by Edmond Goulding, the well-known director of "Grand Hotel",
"The Razor's Edge" and "Nightmare Alley" and with a musical score by
Jerome Kern (unfortunately, not a distinguished one) and cinematography
by the great James Wong Howe (again, not one of his premier efforts).
It concerns two couples, Ann Harding and Herbert Marshall, a
psychiatrist and a medical doctor who have been courting for quite some
time, and Louis Hayward and Maureen O'Sullivan, two wealthy young
people: he, an alcoholic wastrel and she, a pathologically needy woman
obsessed with her relationship with Hayward. When O'Sullivan attempts
suicide over Hayward's neglect, Marshall tends to her and calls in
Harding to attempt to help her. Harding goes about this, rather
strangely, by attempting to cure Hayward's alcoholism so that he will
hopefully be a better partner to O'Sullivan (no matter that her
obsession with him is not the mark of a well-balanced individual).
After his rehabilitation, Hayward does indeed attempt to be better to O'Sullivan and marries her, but finds that his attachment to Harding has developed into love. Harding finds that she reciprocates his feelings also and the dilemma must be resolved. Sounds like an interesting, even juicy movie could have been made of all this, but I'm afraid not. Ann Harding had a blonde, patrician beauty that is lovely and her acting could be subtle, thoughtful and surprisingly modern. However, the one thing I have not seen her capable of in what I admit is my limited knowledge of her acting (3 performances) is physical passion. She and Marshall strike no sparks and seem to have no more than a companionable friendship, but neither does she give any indication that she burns with passion for Hayward, so the viewer is left with no investment in either relationship. O'Sullivan has a good scene or two, but her character is awfully inconsistent, swinging from noble to nutsy, without enough exploration by Goulding of what could account for her feelings, just neediness. The now jaw-dropping sexism of some of the attitudes expressed, as well as the simplistic look at the mechanics of psychiatry also work against the drama and make it quite dated.
Yikes, what a mess.
"The Flame Within" is from 1935 and stars Ann Harding, Herbert Marshall, Louis Hayward, Maureen O'Sullivan, and C. Aubrey Smith.
Harding is Dr. Mary White, a hard-working psychiatrist. Herbert Marshall plays Dr. Gordon Phillips, her good friend. He's in love with her and wants to marry her, but she resists. She would rather concentrate on her work. In those days, when a woman married, she stayed home. Mary isn't sure how that would work out for her.
Phillips has a suicidal patient, Linda (O'Sullivan) whom he convinces to see White. The problem is Linda's boyfriend, Jack (Hayward),is an alcoholic. Mary suggests that she counsel Jack and perhaps help him.
Jack manages to both stop drinking and fall in love with his doctor and vice versa - I mean, way to go, fall for the suicidal patient's love of her life. Mary and Jack find some happiness, but Linda picks up on the situation and becomes jealous.
Dated and muddled, this isn't the best film that these people have made though they all do their best to overcome the script. Maureen O'Sullivan is beautiful, and one thing about her -- she was always very earnest. Harding is stiff upper lip.
I'm not sure I liked the way this film ended. I loved all the actors but this script was pretty bad.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's a smooth melodramatic handling of a story about a lady psychiatrist who develops romantic feelings for her patient (Louis Hayward). The scenes are laid out strategically by writer-director Edmund Goulding, to generate the most dramatic effect possible. It works mostly thanks to Ann Harding's delicate but strong performance. Hayward tends to overdo some of his scenes, but he's young and this was one of his first Hollywood films, so he was evidently still learning on- camera techniques. Maureen O'Sullivan probably has the showiest role as Hayward's wife who tries more than once to kill herself because her husband doesn't feel for her what she does for him. I think what I like most about this film and the way it tells its particular story is how Harding's character is at the center of an emotional vortex. Her happiness causes the unhappiness of others, but ironically if she resolves herself to unhappiness, then it puts everything right for everyone else. So all her movements and words have dual meanings in them. Herbert Marshall plays the man she will settle down with at the end of the film, and Marshall's underplaying nicely complements the subtle acting by Harding.
Dr. Mary White (Ann Harding) and Dr. Gordon Phillips (Herbert Marshall)
have been dating for a very long time and although Gordon clearly loves
her, she seems a bit cold about their getting married. Some of this is
because of the common expectation in the 1930s that a woman give up her
career when she marries--and she worked her butt off to be a
psychiatrist. Into this atmosphere of ambivalence comes a suicidal and
very neurotic woman (Maureen O'Sullivan). The lady has repeatedly
attempted suicide because the relationship with her boyfriend is so
dysfunctional and she deals with his alcoholism by these wild suicide
attempts. Her new doctor, Mary, decides that unless she also treats the
boyfriend (Louis Hayward) then the suicidal woman will eventually
succeed in trying to off herself.
Despite some hiccups, Mary is able to work with the boyfriend and get him to stop drinking and become productive. This is good news and now he and his girlfriend can marry. But there is bad news--he and Mary are struggling with feelings towards each other...and they sure ain't professional feelings!!
The notion of a psychiatrist and patient having romantic feelings towards each other is an interesting topic...especially since it's the biggest reason a psychotherapist would lose their license today. It's completely taboo for a therapist to have such a relationship and it's 100% unprofessional. However, back in the early days of the field, the rules weren't so clear--and here both entertain the notion of having a relationship even though he's married and she's been engaged forever. Investigating how his transference and her counter-transference (the commonly used terms for this sort of thing) takes place and is professionally handled would have been interesting. Unfortunately, the film isn't sure what to do about this and makes it all very sappy and romantic...and utterly ridiculous. Especially ridiculous is Gordon who feels the best thing to do is give Mary to her patient and walk away. This is unprofessional, unethical and, frankly, no one is THAT noble. So how does it all work out? Well, unfortunately, in a very silly and Hollywood way...hence my score of only 3. The film brings up interesting topics...it just doesn't handle them very well!
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