Acteurism: The Emergence of Ann Sheridan, 1937–1943
October 1–November 21, 2014
Related Film Screenings
1940. USA. 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. 87 min.
Edge of Darkness
1943. USA. 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. 118 min.
1941. USA. 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. 90 min.
Angels with Dirty Faces
1938. USA. 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. 97 min.
They Drive by Night
1940. 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. 95 min.
The Man Who Came to Dinner
1942. Directed by William Keighley. By 1942, Sheridan’s proletarian sassiness was well enough established that she could teasingly play against type, here as a predatory Broadway actress (partly based on Tallulah Bankhead) who forces herself into the Midwestern home where a famously grouchy radio personality (Monty Woolley) has been confined because of a damaged hip. Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke, Reginald Gardner, and Mary Wilkes costar in this adaptation of the Kaufman and Hart play. 112 min.
1937. Directed by William McGann. With John Litel, Mary Maguire, Dick Purcell. Lured by the title, audiences hoping to see an old-school Warner Bros. gangster film must have been disappointed by this diminished return to the studio’s favorite genre, as thoroughly bowdlerized by the Production Code Administration. The reliable John Litel stars as the world’s most benign racketeer; Sheridan, in a role too typical of her B career, does what she can with the confining part of his Park Avenue fiancée. Mysteriously, the film was banned in Sweden, Finland, and Trinidad. 63 min.
1939. Directed by Charles F. Riesner. With Richard Carlson, Robert Armstrong, Virginia Gilmore, Marsha Hunt. Loaned out by Warners to the independent producer Walter Wanger, Sheridan found one of her richest early roles in this rarely seen film: she’s a publicity-loving heiress who makes an unexpected return to Dartmouth College’s famous winter celebration, where she encounters an old flame—now a comfortably tweedy professor (Carlson). Filmed partly on location, from a screenplay cowritten by a young Budd Schulberg. An unbilled Robert Walker makes his screen debut. Restored by MoMA. 105 min.
1940. USA. William Keighley. 87 min.