Title: The Forbidden Hollywood Collection
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
Warner Brothers has released the Forbidden Hollywood Collection. Pre-code Hollywood, also known as the days before the Hays Code, was a steamy place. The Hays Code dictated what could be shown and said, and just how far the envelope could be pushed without offending people. In this beautiful set, we are treated to three films that did not fall under the scrutiny of that code. The innuendos, racy words and notions run free. For the first time on DVD, the spirit of the early 1930’s comes alive!
Baby Face (1933)
Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lily Powers, a girl fed up with life in her boring dead-end town. All of the local men know her as a “sweetheart of the night”. Her sexual escapades are nothing secret. Her days are spent waiting on the men that come in after laboring at the mill. The smoke stacks can be seen in the distance, its dirty white smoke filtering out in to the air. After having an argument with her father, he is killed in a freak explosion and Lily finds herself at a crossroads. She wants to make something of her life, but thinks that her looks are the only asset worth marketing. Life has shown her its shallowness, perhaps one too many times. She travels to New York and works her way into a large banking firm by trading “something” for an entry level position. We have no trouble surmising what that something is. Lily continues to climb the ladder using her tried and true methods. When she has used one man for all he’s worth, she moves directly to the next. The camera continually pans upward on the outside of the bank building, which signifies her progression from one job to a more important job. Finally, Lily sees a real opportunity in one particular executive, and though she plays hard to get, she decides to marry him and cash in on the fortune of a wife. This is her “big score”, metaphorically speaking. However, it isn’t long before Lily’s trail of ex-lovers begins to catch up to her and she becomes trapped in a triangle. Her executive husband is faced with the possibility of losing his job, and in a twist of cruel irony, Lily may have to face some hard realities as well.
Red Headed Woman (1932)
In the short time that the world had Jean Harlow, she managed to leave a mark on virtually everyone. Her sassy demeanor and rebellious attitude put her in a class of her own. In Red Headed Woman she plays Lillian ‘Lil’ ‘Red’ Andrews, the “other woman” to Chester Morris’ character. Morris plays William Legendre Jr., and his wife Irene (played by Leila Hyams) is the devoted woman that every man dreams of marrying. After a quick fling with ‘Lil Red’, Legendre tries to wipe the incident from his mind and his life. Irene was none the wiser and the affair was more or less swept under the rug. However, ‘Lil Red’ wasn’t finished with him, and with this ammunition for blackmail, she realizes that she can have William at her beck and call. Irene does eventually find out about the infidelity and is distraught but willing to work things out. ‘Lil Red’ doesn’t want to go away and forces William to divorce his wife and marry her instead. She isn’t really in love with him, but she is in love with high society and importance. In the true nature of a “gold digger”, she has yet another fling while married to William. Her latest fling provides her with the adoration of many. One of her primary goals has been realized; but, is it enough for her? William desperately wants to reconcile with his wife Irene. He tries to offer Lil money to disappear, but she refuses, even taking a shot at him. The bullet misses him, but he still decides to forget about it if she’ll just go away. This movie was a career highlight for Jean Harlow, along with “The Public Enemy” with James Cagney a year earlier. Harlow would pass away just five years after making this film at the young age of 26.
Waterloo Bridge (1931)
The third film in the Forbidden Hollywood set keeps a consistent theme in Waterloo Bridge. Mae Clarke stars with Douglass Montgomery (aka Kent Douglas) in this tale about a prostitute (Myra Deauville, played by Clarke), who stands on London’s Waterloo Bridge as the soldiers come out of the station. Once a showgirl, Myra’s show is cancelled and life on the street seems to be her only refuge. Her self esteem is damaged and though she doesn’t realize it, that outlook on her own life is the very thing that confines her to it. She meets a solider (Montgomery) and does not tell him of her real profession, but rather, presents herself as still being a showgirl. He takes her back home with him to meet his relatives and Myra’s guilt from dishonesty overwhelms her. She confesses to the soldier’s mother that she is really a woman of the night. The mother appears to be sympathetic towards her, but still will not approve of a marriage between Myra and her son. Myra does not tell him of her conversation with his mother, and sees him off to war on Waterloo Bridge. She’s promised to wait for him to return, but walks away in tears. Her self-image has sunk even lower by essentially being told that she was “not good enough” to marry the soldier by his own mother. The ending provokes a flurry of emotions, and though I won’t give it away, it’s an ending that adheres to one’s memory. This 1931 version is far more gritty than its 1940 incarnation with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. The 1940 version is dressed up and made to seem more innocent, as were many other films that were governed by the Hays Code. This 1931 film is the first screen adaptation of the Robert L. Sherwood play, and most likely the best no-holds-barred interpretation of the story.
All three of these films dance around a similar premise. Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke are women with a tainted reputation who seek betterment in their lives. Though their methods are somewhat different, their goals justify their twisted behaviors. Pre-code Hollywood showed the more realistic side of life without the thick blanket of glitter covering the unpleasant ingredients. The public found it hard to face these truths, even though they lived with them. The Forbidden Hollywood Collection resurrects this age of straight forward approaches. It is a time that has not been forgotten despite the years of film that followed. The clean audio and video transfers on this Warner Brothers release serves as a modern way to remember. This ground-breaking set should find its way to your collection.
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