Have you ever watched a movie who’s ending infuriated you? An ending that made you want to scream, or jump off a ledge? Well that is “The Flame Within” for me. Luckily my good friend and movie pal, Fernando Silva wrote a comment to me that totally turned me away from the ledge and back to my Couch. The year is 1935, the Code is fully enforced by Will Hays and “The Flame Within” has “The Code” written all over it. BUT if you EVER need to be talked off a ledge, maybe my friend can do that for you as well. I now give you Fernando’s thoughts on “The Flame Within” which I proudly share with you all for this weekend’s CLASSIC MOVIE HISTORY BLOGATHON. – CineMaven
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by FERNANDO SILVA: Posted on June 27th, 2015
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 a period of time.
( See Movie Morlock Moira Finnie’s interview with Harding biographer Scott O’Brien by clicking on photo.- C.M. )
“The Flame Within” was a film that I had eluded to watch due to its fame as the film that definitely “sank Pre-Code” (in a way) due to Harding’s “concessions” at the end….but when I saw it I was so surprised, because I liked 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 reminds me of “Double Harness” (1933).
Here in “The Flame Within” the story is very involving, the dialogue very interesting, the psychology of the characters well worked out, and I “bought” it completely! Herbert Marshall does what he has to do, given the role he is handed, but Louis Hayward surprised me 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 very good as Marshall’s and Harding’s colleague; but the film belongs to Harding and then 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” ( 1934 ) with Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery and Herbert Marshall...Norma’s last Pre-Code film.
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, a sort of maternal instinct arises. 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 his new wife. One can realize by the look in her eyes 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.
Marshall tries to make her believe she is confused, that her maternal instincts were awakened. Maybe so. But that’s not the only thing. She also fell in love with Hayward; with the new re-born man…now secure in himself, bolder than ever and with the world in 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, got involved emotionally with a patient.
The ending works for me 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! Harding could continue working as a doctor, but she commits “professional suicide” and punishes herself by marrying a man she’s fond of, but who she’ll never love. She’ll probably carry a torch for Hayward all her life, but for that, she punishes herself by marrying Marshall and leaving a career she no longer feels worthy of. The punishment is not only for loving, but also, as a professional with high ethical standards, for being “unprofessional” – 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!
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I enjoyed Fernando’s piece looking into a deeper motivation for Harding’s decision. It makes my half-empty feeling
( thanks to Willie Hays’ code ) a little more half-full; Fernando puts Harding’s decision more in line with self-determination rather than resignation. Hey, it helped get ME down from that self-imposed ledge. Thanks so much for reading his contribution. But hold on there Sparky…don’t skip away. You’re not done yet. Click onto this banner for more essays exploring decades of film history. Our hosts: Movies Silently, Silver Screenings and Once Upon A Screen feature a slew of interesting categories. Thanx!
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