miliosr

Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volumes One & Two

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Recently, I purchased the Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume One, which contains three films from "pre-Code" Hollywood. (For more about the "Code", please read this excellent Wikipedia summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Code)

The first disc contains Waterloo Bridge (1931) (w/ Mae Clark) and Red-Headed Woman (1932) (w/ Jean Harlow). The second disc contains two versions (the pre-release version and the theatrical version) of the Barbara Stanwyck film Baby Face (1933). Baby Face is the most notorious of the three films contained in the collection as it has the reputation (as much as any other film of the era) of bringing on full enforcement of the Code in 1934. The pre-release version was thought lost for many years until a pristine print was found in a Library of Congress vault. This is the version I watched today.

I won't summarize the plot which you can find in this summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_Face_(film) As for the film itself, I can see why the film caused such a stir back in 1933. Even 80 years later, the film packs a wallop. Partly this is due to the script, which is completely unsentimental until the rather implausible finale. But what really sets this one apart is Barbara Stanwyck's performance as Lily a.k.a. Baby Face. Stanwyck's "hard-burled" persona is already set in concrete here and the reason the unsentimental script peels paint is because of Stanwyck's delivery. Baby Face, as portrayed by Stanwyck, is unrepentantly amoral and is a walking, talking "back-of-the-hand" to the moral conventions of the day. Throw in a Nietzsche-quoting cobbler who "advises" Baby Face ("Face life as you find it -- defiantly and unfraid. Waste no energy yearning for the moon. Crush out all sentiment.") and various salacious scenes (especially the train hopping scene) and it is no wonder various film censorship boards wanted to censor this film.

I highly recommend the pre-release version of Baby Face. Stanwyck is entertaining in the extreme as she uses her "assets" to get ahead in life and the film cruises along at a brisk 75 minute pace. The print transfer is fantastic, which is unusual for a film from that era. (If you watch it, keep your eyes peeled for a very young John Wayne, who plays one of Baby Face's victims.)

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I saw Baby Face some years ago in a revival house. Good picture. The Mae Clark version of Waterloo Bridge is an interesting contrast to the Vivien Leigh version, ten years apart.

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I purchased the Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume Two, which contains more rarely seen films from the pre-Code era (1929-1934). Film one on disc one is the Norma Shearer vehicle, The Divorcee (1930), for which Shearer won the Best Actress Oscar for the year 1929-30. (Among others, she beat out Greta Garbo, who was nominated for Anna Christie.)

The Divorcee tells the tale of a married woman (Shearer) who, discovering that her husband (Chester Morris) was unfaithful to her, divorces him and embarks on erotic adventures of her own. Eventually, she and her former husband reconcile but not before she has a dalliance with a very young Robert Montgomery and nearly causes Conrad Nagel to leave his wife for her.

Unlike Baby Face in the first collection, The Divorcee has more of a dated feel to it. Interestingly, the "datedness" is not related to the acting which, considering this was only a year into M-G-M's move into talkies, is fairly strong. Instead, the dated quality of the film stems from the fact that what was scandalous in 1930 wouldn't even raise an eyebrow today. The Divorcee's importance today comes not from being a two-middle-fingers-up to Victorian morality but from being a species of proto-feminist filmmaking.

As I mentioned, Shearer won an Academy Award for her performance. As I'm not a great admirer of Garbo's performance in the English-language Anna Christie, I can't say that Shearer's win represents some kind of travesty. She is goodish in the part, particularly in scenes where she displays brisk humor and no-nonsense attitude. She struggles more in very dramatic scenes where the silent film conventions start to rear their heads. Still, Shearer demonstrates here why she was in the vanguard of silent film actors who were able to make the transition to talkies.

The rest of the cast is decent with Robert Montgomery being a particular stand-out. Chester Morris, who plays Shearer's husband in the film, is just OK -- he has more of a Warner Bros.-gangster movie vibe to him that seems out-of-place here. Not to worry -- Clark Gable was already working at M-G-M and his fast rise would finish off Morris at M-G-M (as it did with Johnny Mack Brown).

For a film that is 81 years old, the print transfer is outstanding. Two film scholars offer a commentary track and it is reasonably good. They cover some of the best anecdotes, including how Shearer's friend Ramon Novarro introduced her to photographer George Hurrell, who produced a series of sultry photos of Shearer which convinced Irving Thalberg to give his wife the part. (Thalberg didn't think Shearer was sexy enough for the part!!!) They also discuss Joan Crawford's ire toward Shearer who Crawford felt was getting the best parts because Shearer was "screwing the boss".

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The second film in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume Two set is another Norma Shearer vehicle. Released on June 30, 1931, A Free Soul stars Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, Leslie Howard and an up-and-comer named Clark Gable. Barrymore plays Shearer's father in the picture, and he is the one who encourages Shearer to be the "free soul" of the title -- with predictably disastrous results.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Shearer's character -- Jan -- gets mixed-up with amoral gangster Ace (Gable) who punctures -- brutally -- her pretenses of being above and beyond everyone and everything. Unwittingly, she sets in train a series of events which culminate in her on-again off-again fiancee Dwight (Howard) murdering Ace and her alcoholic father having to defend Dwight by calling Jan to the witness stand.

If it all sounds very melodramatic -- it is. Still, at its heart, A Free Soul continues to resonate. While the then-salacious aspects of the story -- Prohibition, organized crime, sexual freedom -- do not scandalize today, the underlying theme does have relevance for contemporary audiences. As Jan discovers to her detriment and horror, consorting with marginal elements of society may be "radically chic" at first but matters don't stay chic for very long.

Shearer was Oscar-nominated for this part but lost to Marie Dressler for Min&Bill. Shearer is at her best when she is engaged in brisk repartee but the limits of her "technique" (she had no formal training) are apparent in more dramatic scenes. Her attempts at hysteria come across as false and amateurish. On occasion, she also slips into that horrible 30s Hollywood way of speaking (i.e. "again" is pronounced as "a-gayne".)

Barrymore won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Shearer's father. Personally, I found much of his performance over-the-top and theatrical in the worst way. But then, I find all of his performances to be overly theatrical so I may not be the best judge of how deserving he was of an Oscar.

Howard and Gable are both excellent in their respective parts (Gable especially so) and there's a certain thrill in seeing the future Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes together for the first time. Unlike Rhett and Ashley, Ace has no redeeming qualities and Dwight proves to be a good deal more resolute than weak-willed Ashley. With the exception of his loan-out to Warner Brothers for Night Nurse (released in July 1931 and also included in this set), Gable would be a lead from here on out.

Like The Divorcee, the print transfer for A Free Soul is outstanding. The look of the film is sumptuous, which is no surprise given that costume designer Adrian, cinematographer William Daniels and set designer Cedric Gibbons were all on hand. There is no commentary track.

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"A Free Soul" is horribly dated but it's of interest to buffs. It made Gable a star, although nobody expected that, and the studio was so eager to take advantage that he ended up making I believe it was eleven pictures in 1931. Ace the gangster is supposed to be the villain and the deck is stacked that way, but Gable earned a lot of audience sympathy - after all, the toffs treat him like dirt and as far as Shearer's concerned he's just a stud service. This was apparent in the rushes and Thalberg had Gable shove Shearer around in order to shift audience approval back to his lady wife, but it didn't work - the randy rich girl got what was coming to her, seems to have been the consensus of opinion.

I like that look Shearer shoots Gable when they first meet - she doesn't leave a shred of clothing on him -- and she looks very sexy in the gowns of the period.

L. Barrymore was a horrible old ham, not to be confused with John, who could give a good performance almost to the bitter end. I'm sure Lionel must have given a decent performance some time but offhand I can't recall one.

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It made Gable a star, although nobody expected that, and the studio was so eager to take advantage that he ended up making I believe it was eleven pictures in 1931.

You were close. Wikipedia lists 12 (!) releases in 1931. What follows is release date, title, Gable credits position, co-stars and studio (if not M-G-M):

02/07/31 The Easiest Way - (8th) - Constance Bennett/Anita Page

02/21/31 Dance, Fools, Dance - (6th) - Joan Crawford

03/07/31 Painted Desert - (5th) - Pathe/RKO

04/11/31 The Finger Points - (5th) - Fay Wray - First National/Warner Brothers

04/18/31 The Secret Six - (7th) - Wallace Beery/Johnny Mack Brown*/Jean Harlow

(*Brown would be the biggest casualty of Gable's amazing rise to the top in 1931. See Laughing Sinners below.)

05/30/31 Laughing Sinners - (3rd) - Joan Crawford

(This had been filmed with Johnny Mack Brown. But, when the producers noticed the chemistry between Gable and Crawford in Dance, Fools, Dance, they refilmed all of Brown's scenes with Gable. This was pretty much the end of Brown's career at M-G-M.)

06/20/31 A Free Soul - (5th) - Norma Shearer

07/16/31 Night Nurse - (4th) - Barbara Stanwyck - Warner Brothers

09/08/31 Sporting Blood - (1st) - Madge Evans

10/10/31 Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) - (2nd) - Greta Garbo

10/21/31 Possessed - (2nd) - Joan Crawford

1931 Hell Divers - (2nd) - Wallace Beery/Dorothy Jordan

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Thanks for the list. Crawford and Gable were one of the great screen teams but they didn't make many movies of classic quality so they're not remembered that way. MGM paired them seven or eight times, I think.

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Thanks for the list. Crawford and Gable were one of the great screen teams but they didn't make many movies of classic quality so they're not remembered that way. MGM paired them seven or eight times, I think.

Eight:

http://www.joancrawfordbest.com/g.htm

The Crawford/Gable team hasn't had the same staying power that, say, Tracy and Hepburn or Bogart and Bacall has had. Of course, I think Clark Gable's legacy has receded generally over time. He is better remembered than his contemporaries Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor but much less remembered than John Wayne. I wonder how many people are familiar with Gable's work other than his performance as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind (which, admittedly, is iconic.)

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The rule of thumb is that the more movies you make that stand up over time, the better your reputation will do in the very long run. Bogart made a lot of superior movies. Westerns never go out of style completely and Wayne features in many of the best. To a limited extent the King transcended that definition and he's an archetype in something like the way Babe Ruth is an archetype, but he would be better known today if he'd made more classics. Also his career went somewhat adrift in the postwar period, while his rival and coeval Gary Cooper continued to do well.

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Also his career went somewhat adrift in the postwar period

I'll say! He had an incredible run in the 1930s with Red Dust (1932), It Happened One Night (1934), China Seas (1935), Mutiny On the Bounty (1935), San Francisco (1936), Saratoga (1937), Gone With the Wind (1939) and Boom Town (1940). Shift forward to 1945 and the only two films of note he made between that year and his death were Mogambo (1953) (which was a remake of Red Dust) and The Misfits (1961). Basically, he had a great ten years and then a long decline.

While we're on the subject of Gable, check out this article about the actress Linda Christian, who died recently:

http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/1907026

If you scroll down, there's a very intriguing photo with both Gable and Tyrone Power in it. I can't make up my mind if the party is the height of sophistication or dissolution.

This must be from the same party:

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/50774970?language=en-US

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Out of curiousity, I looked up how Clark Gable and Tyrone Power fared in Quigley's annual Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll:

Gable, as expected, ranked very high in the 1930s and early 1940s:

1932 -- 8th

1933 -- 7th

1934 -- 2nd (Will Rogers was 1st)

1935 -- 3rd

1936 -- 2nd (Shirley Temple was 1st)

1937 -- 2nd (Shirley Temple was 1st)

1938 -- 2nd (Shirley Temple was 1st)

1939 -- 4th

1940 -- 3rd

1941 -- 2nd (Mickey Rooney was 1st)

1942 -- 2nd (Abbott&Costello were 1st)

1943 -- 10th

After Gable returned from militaty service, he enjoyed a brief vogue in the late 40s but then fell out of the Top Ten for good:

1947 -- 7th

1948 -- 7th

1949 -- 10th

Even though Power was Fox's biggest male star for the better part of twenty years, he only appeared on the list three times:

1938 -- 10th

1939 -- 2nd

1940 -- 5th

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While we're on the subject of Gable, check out this article about the actress Linda Christian, who died recently:

http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/1907026

This is my favorite line from the obituary:

"Subsequently it was reported that her pet chihuahua, in a fit of jealousy, jumped to his death from her penthouse flat in Rome."

If you scroll down, there's a very intriguing photo with both Gable and Tyrone Power in it. I can't make up my mind if the party is the height of sophistication or dissolution.

I've always thought that any party from this period with the Duke of Windsor would have been both sophisticated and dissolute.

And look at the Duke's expression here.

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Night Nurse is the only film on Disc 3 of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume Two set. (I've skipped Disc 2 for now.) Directed by William "Wild Bill" Wellman and released on July 16, 1931, Night Nurse stars Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell and a just-on-the-cusp-of-mega-stardom Clark Gable. The picture itself is somewhat short -- its running time is only 1hr 15 minutes.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The first 30 minutes or so are taken up with Stanwyck and Blondell working as nurse-trainees before becoming full-fledged nurses. The remaining 45 minutes concerns Stanwyck going to work in a wealthy home as a night nurse for two little girls, and her attempts to convince those in positions of authority that the chauffeur (played by Gable) is working with a dishonest doctor to starve the two girls to death so they can collect the girls' trust fund money.

This is definitely a pre-Code film but for reasons which differ depending on which section of the picture you are watching. The first "half" is full of numerous, gratuitous shots of Stanwyck and Blondell undressing that must have driven the censors up and over the wall. The second "half" is lurid in a different way as it features starving children to death, drunkenness, violence against women (Gable hits Stanwyck twice) and presenting bootlegging as an honorable profession.

In the thick of all this is Stanwyck who was born to play this kind of material. At this point she wasn't too far removed from her 'Ruby Stevens' origins and it shows in her performance. She is a tough "gal" in this but one with a pronounced sense of right and wrong. You instinctively root for her in her attempts to save the two little girls and stand up to the brutish chauffeur.

Blondell matches Stanwyck all the way as her friend who is the kind of movie character that can recite her nurse's vow while chewing gum at the same time. The two women are dynamite together and their scenes are the best ones in the picture. I don't know if this is the earliest attempt at a female buddy picture but it works like crazy regardless.

Unlike his performance in A Free Soul (which was released a month earlier), Gable is all-villain here. This would be his last villainous role and last supporting role. After Night Nurse, he would remain an 'above the title' star until his untimely death prior to the release of his last film, The Misfits.

Night Nurse comes with a commentary track which is decent enough. The print transfer is excellent.

Finally, it is interesting to compare Norma Shearer's pre-Code performances in The Divorcee (1930) and A Free Soul (1931) with Stanwyck's pre-Code performances in Night Nurse (1931) and Baby Face (1933). Really, it is no contest. Compared to Stanwyck, whose performances crackle with a naturalistic energy, Shearer seems impossibly affected and mannered. Maybe this is why Shearer is all but forgotten today while Stanwyck has endured into the 21st century.

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It's an Elsa Maxwell dinner party in the late forties. Nothing dissolute going on. Truly dissolute parties were relatively rare in Hollywood back then, everyone had to be up bright and early on Monday morning.

Stanwyck was a far better actor than Shearer and her reputation is higher today among buffs, but she also worked successfully in movies and television for many years as she got older, whereas Shearer's retirement turned out to be permanent and because of her mental decline in her latter years a second career as a grande dame was not in the cards for her. Stanwyck also made classics like Double Indemnity and The Lady Eve.

I read that Linda Christian had died. Gorgeous woman. Her ex-husband Power appears to have been genuinely bisexual, with his most serious involvements reserved for women, and not terribly conflicted about the business either way, so good for him.

Thanks for the photos, miliosr. Nice color pic of Luis Miguel Dominguin.

The second "half" is lurid in a different way as it features starving children to death, drunkenness, violence against women (Gable hits Stanwyck twice) and presenting bootlegging as an honorable profession.

Gable also slapped Stanwyck in "To Please a Lady," one of his better postwar vehicles. Leslie Caron reflected in her memoir that she got hit a lot over the years.

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It's an Elsa Maxwell dinner party in the late forties. Nothing dissolute going on. Truly dissolute parties were relatively rare in Hollywood back then, everyone had to be up bright and early on Monday morning.

Oh, I wasn't implying that something untoward was going on in that photo. I just got this vibe of . . . dissipation? . . . when I saw it.

Stanwyck was a far better actor than Shearer and her reputation is higher today among buffs, but she also worked successfully in movies and television for many years as she got older, whereas Shearer's retirement turned out to be permanent and because of her mental decline in her latter years a second career as a grande dame was not in the cards for her. Stanwyck also made classics like Double Indemnity and The Lady Eve.

I'm amazed at how long and varied Stanwyck's career was. She started out at the tail end of the silent era and then was a leading lady for the next 30 years. When her career as a female lead in movies petered out, she managed to avoid the "horror hag" trap Crawford and Davis fell into by doing all sorts of interesting projects (an Elvis Presley musical, The Big Valley, a memorable episode of Charlie's Angels, The Thorn Birds mini-series and the Aaron Spelling soap The Colby's).

I read that Linda Christian had died. Gorgeous woman. Her ex-husband Power appears to have been genuinely bisexual, with his most serious involvements reserved for women, and not terribly conflicted about the business either way, so good for him.

Funny you should mention that. Captain from Castile was on television today and, watching it, I couldn't help but think about the rumors regarding Power and Cesar Romero.

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I didn't mean to suggest you did, miliosr, sorry. I see what you and sandik mean. The Duke of Windsor always had that slightly melancholy look, even when he was partying up a storm as an international idol in the 20s.

You can't help liking Stanwyck. She could do almost anything. You are right to say she also made smart choices - although I'd rather have What Ever Happened to Baby Jane on my resume than Roustabout, in all honesty. I understand this was also true offscreen, she was very professional and likable and no one had a bad word to say about her.

I remember her in The Colbys. (I always liked that show.) I also liked The Big Valley. Used to watch it in the wee hours of the morning in college when I was working on papers. (From Airplane!: "Nick! Heath! Jarrod! There's a fire in the barn!")

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I didn't mean to suggest you did, miliosr, sorry. I see what you and sandik mean. The Duke of Windsor always had that slightly melancholy look, even when he was partying up a storm as an international idol in the 20s.

The more I look at the picture, the more it's discomfort I see and not dissipation. Even though the guests were at an outdoor dinner party, most of them look like they're not enjoying themselves much. Some of it may be due to the circumstances of the photograph itself -- various guests aren't even looking at the camera (Power) or have a surprised look on their faces (Gable). What this photo reminds me of is the famous group photo from 1968 or 1969 of Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Jose Limon, Yvonne Rainier, Don Redlich, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp which bristled with tension and unhappiness.

You can't help liking Stanwyck. She could do almost anything. You are right to say she also made smart choices - although I'd rather have What Ever Happened to Baby Jane on my resume than Roustabout, in all honesty. I understand this was also true offscreen, she was very professional and likable and no one had a bad word to say about her.
I agree. It would be perverse to argue that Roustabout is remotely within hailing distance of Baby Jane. Still, I can't help but think that the lesser film ended up being the smarter career choice. Stanwyck showed that she could move into character parts in genre vehicles without having to run around a set with an axe in her hand.
I remember her in The Colbys. (I always liked that show.)

Me too! It was crazy at times (i.e. an amnesiac heiress from Denver turns up in Los Angeles where she marries her ex-husband's first cousin) but Stanwyck's scenes with Stephanie Beacham were fantastic.

I also liked The Big Valley. Used to watch it in the wee hours of the morning in college when I was working on papers. (From Airplane!: "Nick! Heath! Jarrod! There's a fire in the barn!")

Linda Evans was so beautiful in that as she was in Dynasty. And then she had to go and ruin her face! :(

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Me too! It was crazy at times (i.e. an amnesiac heiress from Denver turns up in Los Angeles where she marries her ex-husband's first cousin) but Stanwyck's scenes with Stephanie Beacham were fantastic.

Beacham was my favorite on the show and a good match for Stanwyck. The show was indeed intermittently nuts but still very enjoyable IMO in spite of Emma Samms. They don't make 'em like that any more.

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I watched Female (1933) last night, which is on the second disc of the Forbidden Hollywood - Volume 2 set. Here is a handy plot summary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_(film)

SPOILERS AHEAD

If it's possible for a movie to be proto-feminist and anti-feminist at the same time, this movie shows how. The first three-quarters of the movie are definitely pre-Code in that the Ruth Chatterton character, Alison, is a hard-driving auto executive who routinely seduces her male employees and then casts them aside. The last quarter is full-on post-Code as Alison decides to give up running her auto factory, and turns over control to her employee/boyfriend Jim (played by George Brent) so she can stay at home and bear him children. Barf!!!

Chatterton is a lot of fun as Alison, and Brent is a decent enough as Jim. (His part is unsympathetic; hence my ambivalence.) Johnny Mack Brown has a small, supporting role as one of Alison's cast-offs. (Brown was freelancing at this time, as the rise of Clark Gable at M-G-M torpedoed his career at that studio. He probably didn't help himself at Metro if his inconsistent speaking voice in Female is any indication -- he goes back and forth between his natural Alabama accent and a mid-Atlantic Metro accent. In any event, he would soon find his true emploi as the star of numerous Western serials and B-movies.)

Finally, the print transfer is outstanding.

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Thanks, miliosr. I don't think you can call Female and its ilkproto-feminist in any respect, unless the mere showing of a woman in authority as part of a setup to bring her down counts as feminist (you also saw this kind of boss-lady-learns-to-quit-her-job-and-become-a-real-woman during WWII, reminding the ladies that eventually it would be time to give up their jobs and make room for Daddy). Chatterton isn't a very sympathetic boss and it's best all around when she elects to quit. I remember this one as being pretty entertaining.

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Chatterton isn't a very sympathetic boss

Which is precisely why the ending is such a cheat.

I remember this one as being pretty entertaining.

Agreed. It moves along at a fast clip and never takes itself too seriously. It's inferior to Night Nurse and Baby Face but superior to The Divorcee and A Free Soul.

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I purchased Volume 3 of the Forbidden Hollywood series, which has as its unifying theme the fact that William Wellman directed all of the films on the discs:

http://en.wikipedia....William_Wellman

The first one I watched is another Barbara Stanwyck potboiler, The Purchase Price (1932):

http://en.wikipedia...._Purchase_Price

The Purchase Price reunited Stanwyck and Wellman from the prior year's Night Nurse and paired her with George Brent (with whom she would co-star in the following year's Baby Face.) Sadly, The Purchase Price doesn't come close to the other two Stanwyck movies in this series -- The Purchase Price is inferior to Night Nurse and far inferior to Baby Face.

Stanwyck is her usual brisk, no-nonsense self in this but even she is stymied by a script that doesn't know what it wants to be. The movie starts out as a mob drama then morphs into a "comedy" about two mismatched individuals then becomes a tense marital drama then turns into a Depression-era "save the farm" message picture. All of this in 67 minutes!

Brent is no help at all to Stanwyck as his leaden performance undercuts whatever energy Stanwyck can muster in their scenes together. Furthermore, his part is so unsympathetic that the viewer is left wondering why Stanwyck has fallen in love with him and why she is sticking with him.

The pre-Code content of the film revolves mostly around Stanwyck in various states of undress and a party sequence involving much drunkenness. The latter wouldn't even register today as scandalous but, at the time of the movie's release, Prohibition was still nominally in effect.

The print transfer is superb for a movie of this age.

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The next movie I watched in the Forbidden Hollywood - Volume 3 set was another Ruth Chatterton vehicle, Frisco Jenny:

http://en.wikipedia....ki/Frisco_Jenny

Frisco Jenny is very much in the same vein as such selfless-mothers-who-will-do-anything-for-their-child melodramas as Stella Dallas and Madame X. What separates this movie from those two is Frisco Jenny herself -- she is an unrepentant criminal who starts out by running a prostitution ring and pretty much goes speeding down the sin highway from there. What really must have irked the moralists of the pre-Code period was that the Jenny character as written and portrayed did not exhibit the least bit of remorse about her criminal activities. To the contrary, the movie presents Jenny as a relatable person who is only trying to make ends meet in the face of economic adversity. Adding insult to injury, Jenny and her criminal pals come across as much more fun than Jenny's crusading, priggish district attorney son.

Chatterton is wonderful as Jenny, and I would argue that her final death row scene with her son is actually superior to a similar scene between Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro in the overrated Mata Hari (1931). Donald Cook as Jenny's son Dan is a bit of blank. George Brent, who was originally cast as Dan, would have been better (given the decent rapport he had with Chatterton in the following year's Female). But one can't blame Chatterton for not wanting to play his mother given that she was about to marry him in real life!

All in all, Frisco Jenny is good, pre-Code fun. The print transfer is outstanding.

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The second movie on Disc 2 of the Forbidden Hollywood - Volume 3 set is Midnight Mary (1933), which stars Loretta Young, Ricardo Cortez, Franchot Tone, Una Merkel and Charlie Grapewin.

Of all the movies contained in this set, Midnight Mary is unique in that M-G-M produced it instead of Warner Brothers. In many respects, it was a hybrid of the two studios' styles -- the story is pure 'hard-burled' Warner Brothers but the look of the film is M-G-M at its most escapist (even the prison scenes look impossibly glamorous.) M-G-M conceived Midnight Mary as a vehicle for Jean Harlow (who turned it down) so they borrowed then nineteen-year-old Young and director William Wellman from Warner Brothers, and Ricardo Cortez from Paramount. (Tone, Merkel and Grapewin were all M-G-M players at the time.)

The titular character (played by Young) in this movie is basically good. But forces beyond her control conspire repeatedly to thwart her attempts to escape the underworld of crime and vice and lead a more virtuous life. In this respect, Midnight Mary is really more of a proto-noir than a typical Warner Brothers crime picture or M-G-M women's picture.

Young is a revelation as Mary (all the more so because she was so youthful at the time.) She moves effortlessly back and forth between a "tough cookie" persona and her real, more good-hearted self. To the extent she is remembered at all today, we remember Young for her goodie-goodie on-screen image and her situational hyper-Catholicism. That's a pity because the Loretta Young of Midnight Mary was so much more fascinating than that. (She is also ridiculously beautiful in this.)

Cortez is also quite good as Mary's gangster boyfriend. He had had a strong career in silent films as a B-list "Latin Lover" in the manner of Rudolph Valentino and Ramon Novarro. (This despite being from Austria.) Talkies finished him off as a Latin Lover but he managed to transition into character heavies for a time like the one he plays in Midnight Mary. (Eventually he would leave Hollywood altogether for a second, successful career on Wall Street!)

Tone plays Mary's good-guy love interest in the movie and he is well cast as the charming, urbane hero. In 1933, Tone was a rising star at M-G-M and he would go on to star in many M-G-M pictures throughout the 1930s, including seven with his future wife, Joan Crawford. He never became an A-list star and I wonder if he wasn't almost too charming for M-G-M. Perhaps he would have been better off at a studio like Paramount with its sophisticated Lubitsch comedies.

Merkel and Grapewin offer fine support although both would go on to greater fame (for Grapewin in particular) in 1939: Merkel in Destry Rides Again and Grapewin (as Uncle Henry) in The Wizard of Oz.

The only negative for me was the impossibly happy happy ending. The ending to Frisco Jenny was much better and more honest, but then M-G-M didn't become M-G-M because it cared about realism.

Midnight Mary is pre-Code all the way with murder, adultery, drinking, unwed pregnancy, shoplifting, Loretta Young smoking (gasp!) and general moral waywardness. (The screenwriters for Baby Face worked on this so no wonder.)

The movie comes with a very enlightening commentary track. The picture transfer is outstanding.

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