Day 5 of Noirvember: The Major and the Minor Noir (Or, A Tale of Two Anns)

The name of Virginia Huston is not one that’s readily known or often discussed by film fans. Yet, she had five films noirs to her credit, one of which is among the era’s best-known features. She’s earned her place in the sun. (Or the shadows, if you will.)

Today’s Noirvember post takes a look at two of the noir roles – both named Ann – that were played by this actress. The first Ann is a featured role, essential to the film’s plot, while the second Ann is a part that, frankly, could have been left on the cutting room floor.

Huston was memorable in Out of the Past.

Out of the Past (1947)

This popular film can be found on nearly every Top 10 noir list, including my own. It tells the labyrinthine tale of a small-town gas station owner, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), whose bucolic existence is shattered when he has a chance encounter with his past. Turns out that in his previous life, Jeff was a private dick hired by a refined gangster, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his lover, who shot him and absconded with a cool forty grand. Jeff tracks the woman, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) to Mexico, where he promptly falls in love with her. Unfortunately for Jeff, he ultimately learns that he’d have been better off if he’d stayed at home – especially when Kathie disappears into the night after gunning down Jeff’s ex-partner. And years later, after he happens to run into one of Whit’s henchmen, Jeff is plunged back into his past, where he finds himself in the middle of a maelstrom typified by deception, murder, and Kathie.

Virginia Huston’s Ann in this film was Jeff’s loyal and loving girlfriend. While she’s soft-spoken and sweet, Ann is no pushover. She knows what she wants – and she wants Jeff, despite the objections of her parents and the local lawman whose passion for Ann is unrequited. Far less showy than femme fatale Kathie, Ann nonetheless figures prominently in the plot; the extensive flashback that makes up nearly the first half of the film is set up by Jeff telling Ann about his history. And even after Kathie re-enters his life, it’s clear that it’s the homespun Ann who Jeff really loves. Finally, after most of the major characters meet with a violent demise, it’s Ann who serves up a poignant touch at the film’s end.

Huston in Sudden Fear with Bruce Bennett (who had a similarly thankless role in the film).

Sudden Fear (1952)

One of my many favorite noirs, Sudden Fear focuses on wealthy playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford), who falls for and weds actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) after a whirlwind romance. Nearly giddy with bliss over her seemingly perfect union, Myra is unaware that Lester married her for her money and she’s even less aware that Lester is stepping out with his ex-lover, Irene (Gloria Grahame). Making matters worse, when Lester (thinks he) discovers that Myra intends to cut him out of her will, he has no choice but to plan her murder. What Lester doesn’t know is that Myra is wise to his plot and is doing a little planning of her own.

As the Ann in this feature, Virginia Huston played Myra Hudson’s secretary. Her primary function seemed to be to carry Myra’s flowers, or offer comments about her relationship with Lester, or serve as an extra party guest. In other words, her role was completely superfluous to the plot. In fact, she was only on screen for about five minutes – if that. After the film’s release, Huston earned a mention in Variety as “okay.” That just about says it all.

Virginia Huston had a brief and not very prolific career in Hollywood – she was in fewer than 15 films over a span of nine years. However, her minor contribution to Sudden Fear notwithstanding, she definitely made her mark in the era of film noir; in addition to her role in Out of the Past, she was a standout as a nightclub singer in Nocturne (1947) with George Raft and Lynn Bari, and was memorable as a spoiled society dame in Flamingo Road (1949), starring Joan Crawford. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, do yourself a favor and check her out; she’s worth discovering. (Just not in Sudden Fear.)

Join me tomorrow for Day 6 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 5, 2019.

5 Responses to “Day 5 of Noirvember: The Major and the Minor Noir (Or, A Tale of Two Anns)”

  1. You said it. She’s a fave actor of mine and yet I’d forgotten she’s even in Sudden Fear!

  2. Looks like she retired after getting married in 1952, having made only about a dozen films. She also has a small part in The Racket as William Talman’s wife.

  3. A tidy little noir collection for Ms.Huston. Nice.

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