Monday, June 17, 2013

Ann Dvorak Bests Bette Davis Again (and she's "just a housewife")

Housewife (1934)

Sadly, this advertisement is more interesting than the film. "Housewife," a Warner Brothers factory product of 1934, is pretty much a stinker (but not, as Bette Davis referred to it years later, "a horror"). Bette probably hated it because her part, as the vampish bachelor-career girl, was about as cliched as they come. And Ann Dvorak, once again, got the better role. If you remember, Ann also got the plum role of bored and coked up socialite Vivian Revere in 1932's "Three on a Match" and pretty much acted everyone in the film (including Davis, Joan Blondell and Humphrey Bogart) off the screen.

So why bother with "Housewife"? It is one of the few films where Ann Dvorak gets to shine and shine she does (brighter than poor Bette, who is all big eyes and carnal grins). Ann plays Nan Reynolds, wife of underachiever Bill Reynolds (George Brent, who always looks as though he has a short man's head on a tall man's body). Bill is a rather meek and passive office manager at an advertising firm. Nan, efficient home engineer that she is, manages to make do on his meager salary and makes a comfy home for Bill and son Buddy (played by an extremely annoying child actor by the name of Ronnie Cosby). 
the happy home of the housewife before the home-wrecker shows up
Nan is supportive of Bill, always encouraging him and helping him with new ideas. She knows he can do better, but Bill shows a stunning lack of ambition. Don Draper he is not!
Meek Man/Mad Man
A brash and sexy copywriter named Pat Berkeley (Bette Davis) shows up one day at Bill's firm and sets his world on fire. He and Nan and Pat were friends back at school. Pat might have felt a little hurt that Bill chose Nan over her, but now, Pat is a successful career girl and Bill is the boss's punching bag. Pat, who is a real go-getter, makes it her mission to go get Bill.
Pat makes goo-goo eyes at Bill
Meanwhile, Nan has a bright idea, encouraging Bill to pinch a client from his boss and start his own firm. Amazingly, it works, and now Bill is the big cheese and he has brought that little rat, Pat, along to help him. Not only does she help him in business, she helps herself to him after hours.
Nan knows those "honey, I have to work late again" calls are bunk
With Bill's financial success, Nan is running a much more prosperous household, but she is miserable. She must deal with both Bill's blatant affair with Pat as well as his lack of attention to her, his home and his son. She maintains her dignity with a capital "D." Nan married for life and was not going to bow down to that little vamp-tramp. After all, she knows Bill never had an original thought that was born above his waist, and even those thoughts didn't last long. Bill, hot for Pat and angry that Nan won't grant him his divorce, leaves their home in a snit and - EEK! - runs over little Buddy. Her son's life hanging by a thread, Nan agrees to a divorce. 

Buddy slowly heals and Bill feels more and more like a heel with every passing day. Finally, at the court testimony for her divorce, Nan shows herself to still be in love with Bill and Bill just goes back to being that pile of mush that he was before Pat showed up. Cue Pat to slink into the sunset.

Pretty awful, no? Aside from being a modern woman's nightmare and Warners' nightmare wasting Bette Davis after "Of Human Bondage," this film does have a few things to offer:

1. Ann Dvorak

For a brief moment, Ann Dvorak out-juiced Bette Davis at Warner Brothers, which meant that they thought she had just as much star power, ability and appeal as Davis. Sadly, it was a career that never fulfilled its promise. Ann Dvorak was not as driven or determined as Bette Davis (few were or are), and her star quickly faded. She is a rare treat, and she can be well savored here.

2. Orry-Kelly

There are some lovely dresses and gowns by Orry-Kelly, that are always a pleasure to watch. Those Warner gals had some swanky wardrobes!

3. Bette Davis

We all know she hated these kind of parts, but she had to serve her apprenticeship and man, was she a cutie!

So, this was really just an excuse to spend some time with Ann Dvorak in more than a supporting  or trivial part. For those who are Ann enthusiasts, a long-awaited biography of her will be published in November. The book, by Christina Rice, is titled "Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel."
I've pre-ordered mine!


Christina R. said...

Thanks for the book plug! And I agree that while "Housewife" may not be a great movie overall, it's still a decent Ann Dvorak movie.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christina! There is such a lack of information about Ann, I can hardly wait for November!

Patricia Gallagher said...

I, too, am an admirer of Ann Dvorak. I look forward to seeing this (even if it is not the best film in the world). Perhaps it was bogged down by the code, and would have been more interesting a few months earlier?

DorianTB said...

Chick, I enjoyed your review of HOUSEWIFE, and I liked Ann Dvorak in SCARFACE, so I'm intrigued to check out the upcoming biography! Excellent review!


I really need to watch more pre-codes with actresses I only saw in later films, like Bette and Joan. I have just downloaded Scarface, so soon ann Dvorak won't be a stranger to me anymore.
Loved your description of George Brent!

Samantha said...

Brilliant. I did not know a lot about her and now I know more!

Silver Screenings said...

So true about Orry-Kelly and those fab Warner Bros costumes.

I'm not that familiar with Ann Dvorak and I'm going to keep an eye out for it, even though this may not be the best film.

Gilby37 said...

I will definitely be looking for this book. I am a huge Bette Davis fan so I first saw Ann Dvorak in "Three on a Match" and was totally impressed with her presence. I think she was great in 'Our Very Own' as Ann Blyth's biological mother.

FlickChick said...

Patti - yes, I agree it could have been juicier, but it is so great to see Ann in a good role and looking so glam.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Dorian. I, too, am really looking forward to this bio.

FlickChick said...

Le - oh, please let me know how you liked Ann in Scarface. Wasn't she awesome?

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Sam. Maybe someday you'll find her star on Hollywood Blvd. and send me a photo.

FlickChick said...

SilverScreenings - those Orry-Kelly gowns and daytime outfits are to die for. And to think that Ann could afford those on a Housewife's allowance! She must have been brilliant!

FlickChick said...

Gilby - agreed that she was terrific in "One of Our Own" in such a tiny part. Ann deserves to be remembered and I am so excited about this book.

karen said...

Love her dancing with Lyle Talbot in "Three on a Match".