“You don't understand, Miss Vickers, that the head of a woman's reformatory must be above reproach!"
If anyone knows Irene Dunne at all today she is most known for her comedies such as Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, and My Favorite Wife. Irene Dunne started out on the stage and when she came to Hollywood she was thrown in to the most soap opera-ish melodramas ever filmed. Ann Vickers is one of Dunne’s early melodramas from 1933.
Ann Vickers (Dunne) is an ambitious social worker during The Great War. During a dance she meets a soldier named Lafe Resnick (Bruce Cabot). They hit it off right away and spend his last few days before he is shipped off together. He keeps asking her to marry him but she says her work is more important if he still loves her when he comes home on leave she will marry him. Ann stays the night with Lafe before he leaves for the front. A few weeks later she finds she is pregnant. Lafe comes back not even telling her he was and they see each other at a restaurant. She tells him she thinks now is a good time for them to get married and he is mad instead of happy. Ann goes down to Havana with a friend and has an abortion. She regrets her what she did very much thinking the baby was a girl and all the things she could have done for her daughter.
When Ann returns home she heads out west to work as a warden for female prisoners. She is appalled at how the women are treated. Ann goes to the head of the prison but he just brushes her concerns off. Determined to change things she tells him she will bring about change whether he likes it or not. The head warden tricks blackmails her by having someone tell her a male prisoner is drunk then his number two takes a picture of her holding the man making it seem as if they were together. This makes Ann upset but she gets back at them by writing a book about her time in the prison.
The book brings her instant fame. Ann now heads her own women’s prison where she has done great work. She is even given an honorary doctorate degree in social work. At a party she meets a judge named Barry Dolphin. The judge wrote a review that was placed on the jacket of her book. She tells him that he is the probable reason why her book has been selling so well. Ann likes Barry even though she was warned that he is a womanizer and that he is married to a wife that will not give him a divorce. Also he is currently being brought up on charges for dealings in the stock market.
Ann and Barry are very happy together. She even has his baby a son they name Matthew even though he is still married. After Barry is sent to jail for six years the board of her women’s prison want her to resign because of the scandal of her being with Barry. Ann does so and fights for Barry to be let out of jail. At home her small apartment three years later Barry surprises her after being let out without parole.
Yawn, what a boring drama. Thank God Irene Dunne was such a fantastic actress because this was hard to sit through. Dunne could play any sort of role and just make a film so much better and manageable to sit through. Ann is a pre-code character from the beginning. No other actress could have played this type of woman who was strong and determined yet vulnerable and just looking for love better than Dunne. Irene Dunne had such control over her acting and her characters that she was able to add so much depth and emotion to her characters no matter what type of women they were. You really are left feeling for Ann as she falls in love with men who she knows are not right for her but she cannot help it. She was also such a lady and that comes through in the way she carries her actors as well.
I could not get over the close ups, mirror and face shots in this film they were all so beautifully made. There was a scene where Ann goes to visit Barry while he is in prison and the close up on Irene Dunne’s face was stunning. All the mirror shots were great, I love those kinds of shots for some reason.
The other actors were good with what they were given. I was so upset to see Bruce Cabot play a character than dumped Irene Dunne. I like him he will always be the nice guy from King Kong I hate to see him be a mean type of character.
Ann Vickers is a hard film to find. TCM aired it months ago and I just finally got around to watching it. I say sit through Ann Vickers only if you are an Irene Dunne fan otherwise it is just a really boring melodrama. Although I found the film boring I will say it was a great pre-code and it is one of the best examples of films from that period.