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Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volumes One & Two


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#1 miliosr

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Posted 08 May 2011 - 03:33 PM

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....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.)

#2 dirac

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Posted 08 May 2011 - 08:13 PM

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.

#3 miliosr

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 03:44 PM

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".

#4 miliosr

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 03:53 PM

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.

#5 dirac

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 04:44 PM

"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.

#6 miliosr

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 04:08 AM

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

#7 dirac

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 10:42 AM

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.

#8 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 10:47 AM

This is all so interesting!

One of my favorite films of all time is Capra's Lady for a Day (1933); never thought about it's being pre-Code, but I suppose
that would account for the lyrics of Glenda Farrell's song in this clip (at about 3:30):



#9 miliosr

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 04:37 PM

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.)

#10 dirac

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 05:06 PM

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.

#11 miliosr

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 04:21 PM

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.newyorkso...om/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.gettyimag...?language=en-US

#12 miliosr

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 11:04 AM

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

#13 sandik

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 02:55 PM

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

http://www.newyorkso...om/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.

This must be from the same party:

http://www.gettyimag...?language=en-US


And look at the Duke's expression here.

#14 miliosr

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 03:36 PM

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.

#15 dirac

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 03:54 PM

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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