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During the first World War, Ann Vickers (Irene Dunne), a social worker deeply committed to her job, becomes involved with Captain Resnick (Bruce Cabot) who leaves her pregnant and alone in the surprisingly modern Ann Vickers (1933). It is the beginning of a run of bad luck for Ann where men are concerned. She flees to Havana to have her illegitimate child there, but the child dies from unspecified causes. Eventually, Ann begins a stint as a prison sociologist, after rejecting the marriage proposal of Lindsay Atwell (Conrad Nagel). Treated badly at that job, Ann writes a book about her time at the women's prison and the deplorable, cruel treatment of the prisoners that she witnessed. Inspired by her experiences there, Ann goes on to open a women's reformatory with the help of Judge Barney Dolphin (Walter Huston). But bad luck strikes twice for Ann when she falls in love with the unhappily married Dolphin. Ann becomes pregnant, Dolphin is imprisoned on a charge of financial corruption leaving her to raise their son Matthew alone. The scandal costs Ann her job and she begins writing newspaper articles, eventually reuniting with Dolphin after he is pardoned from prison.
Budgeted at a cost of $317,476, Ann Vickers was a remarkably frank film for 1933, one that featured two out-of-wedlock pregnancies and a remarkably independent, almost feminist heroine by today's standards. The film was adapted from a novel by the socially progressive writer Sinclair Lewis (Babbitt, Elmer Gantry), the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lewis was known for his anti-capitalist messages, strong working woman characters and treatment of race in his work.
Joseph Breen, public relations director of the Hays office, was in charge of evaluating the initial script and found much of the material objectionable. In the screenplay's first draft Ann marries Captain Resnick, has a child with him but after the two separate, has an affair with Barney Dolphin while both are still married, a union that also produces a child. That romantic triangle was too much for the Hays office to stomach. Breen cited the portion of the Production Code prohibiting themes "tending to destroy the sanctity of marriage." After weeks of meetings with the Hays office, producer Merian C. Cooper eventually changed the script so that two married people, Ann and Dolphin, would not both be participating in adultery. References to the abortion Ann seeks in Havana were also eliminated. RKO considered re-releasing the film in 1937 but was told its still salacious themes would mean no production code certificate would be issued because of the adultery themes.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman, Merian C. Cooper
Director: John Cromwell
Screenplay: Jane Murfin, Sinclair Lewis (novel)
Cinematography: David Abel, Edward Cronjager
Film Editing: George Nichols, Jr.
Art Direction: Charles Kirk, Van Nest Polglase
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Irene Dunne (Ann Vickers), Walter Huston (Barney Dolphin), Conrad Nagel (Lindsay Atwell), Bruce Cabot (Captain Lafe Resnick), Edna May Oliver (Malvina Wormser), Sam Hardy (Russell Spaulding).
by Felicia Feaster