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.

    FLAME ( III )  FLAME( IV )

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  )


8 thoughts on “THE FLAME WITHIN

  1. Hello Tessie! Glad you saw this film. Ann Harding has become of my special favorite actresses, because she was so un-actressy, so natural, so true in her performances, so unaffected and yet, she also was a superstar for a (too) short period of time.

    “The Flame Within” was a film that I had eluded to watch due to its fame as the film that definitely “sank Precode” (in a way) due to Harding’s “concessions” at the end….but when I saw it I was so surprised, because I like it very much and had a whole different viewpoint on its plot and “imposed” (by the Code) ending.

    So, I did not have expectations,…but sometimes it’s good to have no expectations, because sometimes you’re in for treats/surprises… and I was!!

    Ann’s performance is splendid: natural, sincere, modern, heartfelt, multi-layered, etc. She’s at her best here. Her approach to the role reminded me of “Double Harness” (1933), the story is very involving, the dialogue very interesting, the psychology of the characters well worked and I “bought” it completely! Herbert Marshall did what he had to do, given the role he was handled, but Louis Hayward surprised very much. I’ve never seen him give such and intense and interesting performance. Maureen O’Sullivan is fine as the neurotic, spoiled patient -hopelessly in love with Louis- and Henry Stephenson is vey good as Marshall’s and Harding’s colleague; but the film belongs to Ann and then Louis Hayward. By the way, the beginning of the film with Marshall and Harding attired in costumes for a party, was quite reminiscent of the previous year’s “Riptide” with Norma Shearer and Herbert Marshall, Norma’s last Precoder.

    **Spoilers ahead** Here’s how I “got” the story, Ann as the psychiatrist has always been completely immersed in her profession and job, and romance has no place in her life; she likes and is fond of Marshall, but in reality it’s more a fraternal feeling than anything else. Then she gets to know this patient, the young, handsome, insecure and bold Louis Hayward and true sort of maternal instincts arise, but not only that, for the first time she falls in love too; unwittingly, hopelessly and almost not being able to control it. She’s always had control over everything in her life, but she’s lost it now. She lies to herself, but deep down inside she knows she has fallen for him….the scene back in her apartment when she finds the dog he left for her as a farewell gift is quite telling, especially when they meet again after he’s back in the USA with her wife. One can realize by the look in her eyes, that when he sees this new man, recovered, back from the living death, re-born like the Phoenix, that she loves him. She finally comes to terms with her true feelings: she has fallen in love with a patient and with a man who belongs to another woman, a woman whose whole life depends upon this man and she feels wretched. Doctor Marshall tries to make her believe that she is confused, that her maternal insticts where awoken, maybe so, but that’s not the only thing, she also fell in love with him; with the new re-born man; now secure of himself, bolder than ever and with the world on his hands… he wants her, he confesses his love…she reciprocates his feelings, but she feels it’s not right…he was her patient, she committed a terrible mistake; she broke a rule, she got involved sentimentally with a patient….so the ending for me worked as self-inflicted punishment; Hayward and Harding know they love each other, but must do what they must do. He has to stand by for O’Sullivan in order to save her from collapsing, he has to be the man and do what he is expected to do. Be brave! Doctor Harding, could continue working as a doctor, but she commits “professional suicide” and punishes herself marrying a man she’s fond of, but who she’ll never love….she’ll probably carry a torch for Hayward all of her life, but for that she punishes herself marrying Marshall and leaving a career she no longer feels worthy of. It’s not only for her love that she feels guilty is having been “unprofessional” (for a professional with high ethical standards) which hurts her the most.

    A truly engrossing, adult film which worked and made sense to me on many levels, with incredible performances. In spite of the Production Code and all; an intelligent film that at least worked for me completely!

    Thanks for bringing up this wonderful, underrated movie Tess and share your always valuable views on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Thank you Fernando. This “comment” is worthy of its own post. ( And I will make that happen. ) I love your commentary and reasoning. I admit, this week…my essay was a little on the ‘lite’ side. You took the ball and ran with it with some very good points. Self-inflicted punishment. Not worthy of the profession she’s supposed to serve. Carrying a torch. Will Marshall want her under those conditions. ( I’m not quite remembering if he knew her predicament of her feelings for young Hayward. ) Hayward not able to leave O’Sullivan; is it up to US to sacrifice OUR life for the happiness of another person? Aren’t we then living THEIE life?

      Please tell me Fernando if you have a moment…how would YOU write the ending of “The Flame Within”? Will Hays be damned! I am very curious. Thanx!


      • Thank you Tess. You are always so kind to me. It is just what I felt when I saw it. Truly. The ending was all right with me. It worked completely. Perhaps I’d have filmed the second part of TFW; the sequel….five years have passed…..Harding’s character happens to meet on the street Hayward’s character. In spite all that he has done, O’Sullivan’s character is in an insane asylum and there’s no hope. Harding is a widow…..and there’s a second chance….Got it?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah baby YEAH!! I want to see that movie. I’ve never been a Louis Hayward fan ( he creeped me out in House By the River.” ) But he did win me over in this film. Hell, if it gives Ann Harding a second chance…I’m all for it. I’m not so kind to you. You write well. If you ever do write crappy, I’ll let you know privately and in a very nice way, my friend. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.


  2. Pingback: ANN HARDINGS | CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH

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