I’ve got a twisted pretzel in “THE FLAME WITHIN.” In this film, Harding does not want to marry. Big deal you say? Yeah, me too. But this is the 30’s and every woman wants to be married. Or NEEDS to be married. In fact it’s like there’s some kinda Law on the books that says every woman HAS to be married in the Continental United States.
If she’s Ann Harding, she’s got a substantial job to do. It’s not that some of her characters in the 30’s weren’t ethereal and romantic in nature. ( “Peter Ibbetson” ). She has an air of independence about her. I’ve seen this in a number of her movies. In “The Right to Romance” she was a doctor, wants to lose the smell of ether on her by embracing life and love for a little while. In “The Animal Kingdom” Harding is a working artist whose affair with Leslie Howard comes to an end now that he wants to marry femme-ly femme Myrna Loy. Loy definitely uses her feminine wiles to land him. In “Double Harness” she does want to marry William Powell, but goes about it in a professional business-like way rather than a cockeyed romantic coquettish way. In “When Ladies Meet“ she faces off with Myrna Loy who wants to take her husband. She faces this challenge not like a shrill nagging insecure wife, but squarely, which speaks to me of some strong sense of self.
Here in “The Flame Within” Harding plays a psychiatrist. Herbert Marshall loves her…wants to marry her, but she refuses. She wants to continue her career in psychiatry. She treats ( high-strung ) Maureen O’Sullivan who is obsessively in love with ( alcoholic ) Louis Hayward. With Hayward as Harding’s patient she gives him the strength to stand on his own without dependending of alcohol. All’s well…she cures him, which in turn calms O’Sullivan down. The psychology is a little soft but hey, the shorthand works for the movies. But aye here’s the twist…Harding falls in love with patient Hayward.
Well that little plot twist dropped my jaw. I didn’t see that coming. As much as I believed Harding’s conviction for working and being her own person at a time and in a world where home and hearth and housewifery was the ‘law of the land for women’…I also believed her turmoil in falling in love with a patient. Ann Harding can pull anything off in her portrayals.
Ohhhh that ending. Don’t worry. I won’t spoil anything here. Let me just say that, for me, the ending is a very very sad one indeed. Her flame is extinguished and we can thank the enforcement of the Code for that. You’ve got to see the movie to really know what I mean. There is a strength and delicate beauty in Ann Harding that compels me to watch her. Check out her movies and see what I mean. Start with this one.
( H O M E )