Pre-Code Crazy: Ann Harding Day on Summer Under the Stars

If you’re a fan of TCM – and really, what classic movie fan isn’t? – then the month of August may just be your favorite month of the year. It’s the month that gives us Summer Under the Stars, where TCM devotes each day’s programming to a single star, airing 24 hours of films featuring the selected actor or actress. This year’s Summer Under the Stars event celebrates such luminaries as Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Glenn Ford – and one of my favorites, Ann Harding.

There’s just something about Ann Harding – she’s not typically pretty, but there’s something absolutely beautiful about her. She’s luminous, shining with a kind of ethereal grace. Intelligent and refined, reserved but not aloof, capable, resourceful, and independent. She was, in short, all that.

On August 21st, TCM is airing several first-rate pre-Codes starring the lovely Ann Harding. So this month, instead of highlighting a single Pre-Code Crazy film, I’m steering you toward three of my favorite Harding pre-Codes that you won’t want to miss. They’re three very different roles, but each one is infused with that special something that Harding possessed.

The Life of Vergie Winters (1934)

Harding stars here in the titular role of a small-town boutique owner who falls in love – and has a 20-year relationship – with married politician John Shadwell, played by John Boles. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Back Street, which was released two years before and, interestingly, also starred John Boles as a prominent citizen in an unhappy marriage and a lengthy illicit affair with his life’s true love.

Getting her groove on in The Life of Vergie Winters.

As Vergie Winters, Harding is noble, self-sacrificing, and totally devoted to her man, to the extent of accepting the blame – and the punishment – for a crime she didn’t commit. Although you may sometimes want to give Vergie a good shaking (and you might frequently wonder what on earth she sees in the rather wooden John Boles), the film is never overly saccharine – the script holds your interest from start to finish and, of course, Harding grabs and retains your focus in every scene she’s in.

Aside from Harding, the film is also ably supported by Helen Vinson, as John Boles’s wife, who is always excellent at playing nice-nasty women.

Trivia tidbit: The screenplay for Vergie Winters was penned by Jane Murfin, who also wrote the scripts for Alice Adams (1935), The Women (1939), and Pride and Prejudice (1940), as well as another of my Pre-Code Crazy recommendations for the day, Double Harness (1933). Incidentally, Murfin was married at the time of Vergie Winters to actor Donald Crisp, who had a small part in the film.

When Ladies Meet (1933)

This film stars Myrna Loy as writer Mary Howard (Myrna Loy), who is in love with her very-married publisher, Rogers Woodruff (Frank Morgan), and whose latest novel centers on a woman who confronts the wife of the man with whom she’s having an affair. Complicating Mary’s would-be bliss is her friend, Jimmie (the always excellent Robert Montgomery), who is unabashedly in love with Mary and decidedly not a fan of her budding relationship with Rogers.

AWKWARD.

Harding is top-billed as Claire, Rogers’s wife who, through some crafty subterfuge by Jimmie, is introduced to Mary and ends up spending the weekend with her at the country home of Mary’s scatterbrained but well-meaning BFF, Bridget (Alice Brady). Neither knowing the true connection of the other to Rogers, Claire and Mary become fast friends, and reveal much about themselves during a deep discussion about the subject of Mary’s book. And when Rogers arrives on the scene . . . well, I’ll let you see for yourself. (For more on this film, click here.)

Trivia tidbit: When Ladies Meet was remade less than 10 years later, with Joan Crawford as Mary and Greer Garson as Claire. As much as I love Joanie and Greer, for me, this version doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

Double Harness (1933)

Last up is my favorite film of the three, which I covered previously on this blog, after having the opportunity to see it on the big screen at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. In this feature, Harding is Joan Colby, who I like to think of as a pragmatic romantic – she wants ladies’ man John Fletcher (William Powell), but thinks of marriage as a business and winds up employing trickery to get John down the aisle.

Couldja turn around so I don’t have to keep talking to the back of your head?

As always, Harding is superb and – just as predictably – Powell is wonderful in his role. The film’s status is elevated even more, though, by the supporting cast, which includes Lucile Browne as Joan’s spoiled, self-centered sister; Henry Stephenson as her long-suffering father; and Lilian Bond, who stands out as one of John’s former lovers. They truly help transform this film into a must-see.

Trivia tidbit: Double Harness was helmed by John Cromwell, who died in 1979 at the age of 92, and directed close to 50 films during his career. His son is actor James Cromwell, known for his performances in a wide variety of TV shows and feature films. I think I first saw him as Stretch Cunningham in All in the Family during the early 1970s (am I dating myself??), but he can also be seen in Babe (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), Angels in America (2003), Six Feet Under (2003-2005), and Boardwalk Empire (2012-2013). And let’s not forget that he also played the Rev. Buryfield in 10 episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

August 21st during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars also features several other top-notch Harding films, but if you don’t do anything else with your day, be sure that you check out The Life of Vergie Winters, When Ladies Meet, and Double Harness.

You only owe it to yourself.

____________________________________

Now don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is covering for this month!

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~ by shadowsandsatin on August 6, 2017.

8 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Ann Harding Day on Summer Under the Stars”

  1. Okay, okay, rub it it that you saw “Double Harness” on the big screen at the TCMFF. I was shut out of that movie twice and I’m still smarting from it. I’m a big Ann Harding fan and there is something intangible about her appeal. You just can’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on the screen. I read a bio of Barbara Stanwyck and Harding was a favorite of hers because she had no pretense about her acting; it was natural and believable. If anyone knew about believable, honest acting, it was Stanwyck. Looking forward to watching these great movies again.

  2. I don’t want to rush the time away, but I really can’t wait for An Harding day.

  3. Love Ann Harding, glad you chose to spotlight her and these are great picks! Agree about her appeal, such an understated actress who could say so much with just a look.

  4. Double Harness is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Ann Harding is gorgeous 👌

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