Following Charles Silver’s popular An Auteurist History of Film program, we begin a new series of daytime screenings, drawn from MoMA’s collection, devoted to actors who were able to develop their screen personalities with sufficient consistency and vivacity that they themselves became vehicles of meaning in their movies. Stars such as John Wayne, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Barbara Stanwyck carried a nexus of emotional, moral, and social values with them from movie to movie, which their directors were able to variously celebrate, criticize, and exploit. The series begins with Ann Sheridan, tracing one of the warmest, sharpest, and most provocative personalities of the 1940s from her beginnings as a bit player and B-movie lead. All films are from the U.S. and presented in 35mm.
Organized by Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film.
Directed by William Keighley.
Sheridan appears in her fully ravishing, red-headed glory in a major Warner production that featured her alongside two of the studio’s strongest male leads, James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. Sheridan, a tough-talking American chanteuse stuck without cash in a banana republic, gets involved in the rivalry between a fruit company’s shipping manger (O’Brien) and its number one plantation overseer (Cagney), as the local revolutionary (George Tobias) tries to topple it all. Photographed in tropical sepia tones by the great James Wong Howe.
Directed by Lewis Milestone.
Released during some of the darkest months of World War II, Edge of Darkness is a powerful, grim exhortation to further combat. Two of Warner’s most carefree prewar stars, Sheridan and Errol Flynn, play Norwegian villagers caught up in the underground struggle against the Nazi troops who have occupied their town. None of the anti-war sentiment of Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front is visible in this somber call to arms, which costars Walter Huston, Judith Anderson, and a young Ruth Gordon.
Directed by Curtis Bernhardt.
With Ronald Reagan, Richard Whorf, George Tobias, Gene Lockhart. Sheridan is at her shrewd, sassy best in what proved to be one of the last of Warner Bros.’ great social issue films. She is teamed with a disarmingly open-hearted Ronald Reagan (who became a star opposite Sheridan in King’s Row) as an itinerant fruit picker, flush with men and money for the harvest, who rolls into a Florida town where Sheridan has set up shop as a B-girl in a local juke joint. Sheridan’s lightning transitions from cynicism to sweetness and back again suggest the range of her personality and the agility of her performing style.
Directed by Michael Curtiz.
With James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Humphrey Bogart, George Bancroft. It’s the Lower East Side as only Warner Bros. could imagine it, starring a group of kids who grow up to be James Cagney (big-hearted gangster), Pat O’Brien (big-hearted priest), and Ann Sheridan—the tomboy who becomes the parish social worker. Sheridan was just climbing out of B pictures at this point, and while her male costars dominate the film, director Curtiz highlights the down-to-earth sexiness that would soon make her a star.
Directed by Raoul Walsh.
With George Raft, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Hale, John Litel, George Tobias. Sheridan’s breakthrough year finally came in 1940, with roles in five major films backed by a studio campaign to promote her as “The Oomph Girl”—a soubriquet Sheridan said always reminded her of an old man leaning over. She’s still in an ensemble cast here (but what an ensemble), and director Raoul Walsh is at last fully appreciative of her self-confidence and salty sense of humor.
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