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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Classic Film Review: Ann Vickers (1933)

Ann Vickers stars Irene Dunne as the title character, a social worker who falls pregnant following a dalliance with an officer about to go off to war. With the help of her aunt, Malvina (Edna May Oliver), she procures an abortion (though this is never explicitly stated) then throws herself into prison reformatory work. She becomes very successful but meets Barney Dolphin (Walter Huston), a married judge whose complex past may be her downfall once again.

I felt the film was too short for everything it tried to include. You got a lengthy set-up between Ann and Captain Resnick (Bruce Cabot), only for it to be merely the catalyst that throws her into prison reform. Her experiences observing the women are potent but they're glossed over far too easily. My opinion was that a few more intimate conversations with the prisoners would've been more helpful than the scenes in the background while a distressed Ann watches. However, this was 1933 so the reticence has context. Ann's affair with Barney is handled more openly, although the romance between them does feel rushed, as much of the film does.

Irene Dunne's performance is, as usual, superb. She handles the scenes after Resnick's betrayal well and you do get a sense of the character developing and maturing as the film progresses. However, my favourite scenes were the ones between Irene Dunne and Edna May Oliver as Malvina, though that may be because this is the second Oliver film I've reviewed this week. The evident warmth in their relationship offset the somewhat shallow relationships Ann has with the male characters.

Overall, I found this film undeniably rushed, detrimentally so. Too much time was spent building up characters who later played no or very little part in proceedings and the central romance didn't feel authentic at all. However, Irene Dunne is excellent in the role, particularly in the scenes following the abortion and when she is forced to make a big decision about her job later on. There are some twists, yes, but nothing you wouldn't expect if you were paying attention. A little formulaic, perhaps, but entertaining nonetheless.

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