Ann Vickers (1933): John Cromwell’s Pre-Code Romantic Melodrama, Starring Irene Dunne

John Cromwell directed Ann Vickers, a Pre-Code romantic melodrama, starring Irene Dunne and Walter Huston, based on Sinclair Lewis’ novel of the same name.

After handsome military officer, Captain Resnick, (Bruce Cabot) courts and gets Ann Vickers (Irene Dunne) pregnant.  She spots him later at a restaurant with another girl, and confronts him with the notion of marriage.  Though hesitant, he promises to keep his word and marry her.

When he leaves, and she doesn’t hear from him, Ann makes a bold decision to terminate the pregnancy.  However, feeling conflicted and regretful, Ann devotes herself to social work, taking a job in a women’s prison. But when she tries to improve the jail’s conditions, she loses her job.

She then writes a book about the harsh realities of the prison and begins a romance with a married judge, Barney Dolphin (Walter Huston).

While this step helps her career, it doesn’t help her wish to have a family.

Changes from Page to Screen

In the novel, Ann Vickers is a birth control advocate and reformer who has an extramarital affair. The 1933 screenplay was approved by the Production Code only when RKO, facing the issue of adultery, consented to make Ann an unmarried woman.

However, the reaction of Roman Catholics to the contents in this film, The Sign of the Cross, and others led to the formation in 1934 of the Catholic Legion of Decency, an organization aimed at combating “objectionable content,” by threatening a boycott.


Irene Dunne as Ann Vickers
Walter Huston as Barney Dolphin
Conrad Nagel as Lindsey Atwell
Bruce Cabot as Captain Resnick
Edna May Oliver as Malvina Wormser
Sam Hardy as Russell Spaulding
Mitchell Lewis as Captain Waldo
Murray Kinnell as Dr. Slenk
Helen Eby-Rock as Kitty Cognac
Gertrude Michael as Mona Dolphin
J. Carroll Naish as Dr. Sorelle


Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Jane Murfin, based on novel Ann Vickers by Sinclair Lewis
Edited by George Nicholls, Jr.
Produced and distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date: September 26, 1933
Running time: 76 minutes


I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on October 18, 2019.