Title: The Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 2
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
Warner Bros. has joined Turner Classic Movies in releasing The Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 2. This set follows the success of Volume 1, though Warners and TCM has upped the ante this time by bringing five pre-codes to our attention! Much like the first volume, this set boasts strong female leads and a non-apologetic approach to story-telling.
The Divorcee (1930)
Based on the novel Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott, The Divorcee stars early Joan Crawford rival Norma Shearer as Jerry Bernard Martin. Jerry is a wife jaded by her husband Ted (Chester Morris) and his extramarital affairs. Like any man, Ted tries to convince Jerry that his unfaithful romps mean nothing. Jerry doesn’t buy it and she wants to settle the score. She gets even by fooling around with Ted’s best friend, a revenge that changes Ted’s mind about the impact of infidelity. He sinks into an alcoholic depression while Jerry is out living a life of parties and freedom. Conrad Nagel plays “Paul”, one of Jerry’s romantic hopefuls from years past who suddenly runs into her again, which causes him to consider divorcing his wife Dorothy (Judith Wood). 1930s regular Robert Montgomery also makes a small appearance as “Don”. Norma Shearer won an Academy Award for her performance. This is the perfect “what goes around…” tale! Bonus features include: The Divorcee commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta.
A Free Soul (1931)
Lionel Barrymore is Stephen Ashe, a defense attorney with a deep appreciation for the bottle. Mobster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) is tried for murder, and with Ashe’s legal assistance, beats his case. The attorney’s daughter, Jan (Norma Shearer) is engaged to a polo player named Dwight Winthrop (Leslie Howard), but winds up ending her engagement to pursue a romance with the newly freed gangster. Jan soon realizes that being involved with a rough neck isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and tries to get out of the relationship. Wilfong has no intention of making it easy, which he doesn’t, until Jan’s ex-fiance Winthrop steps in and kills him. This wins Jan back for him, but it also puts him on trial for Wilfong’s murder. Stephen Ashe is right back where he started: in front of a jury trying to convince them of a guilty man’s innocence. A Free Soul is notable for being Clark Gable’s breakout role. Gable was relegated to secondary characters but found a new audience with his portrayal of the very masculine Ace Wilfong. This film also had “award” written all over it. Lionel Barrymore won the Academy Award for Best Actor, Norma Shearer was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and director Clarence Brown was nominated for Best Director. No bonus features.
Three on a Match (1932)
Three on a Match tells the story of three young girls who attend the same elementary school. They behave like the other children, with the exception of Mary who shuns authority. The three girls grow up and drift apart. Ruth (Bette Davis) is in a stenographer training program, learning to type furiously in a room full of girls just like her. Vivian (Ann Dvorak) is in an expensive boarding school, delighting her classmates at bedtime by reading risqué stories from a book. Lastly, Mary (Joan Blondell) has found herself in reform school. After a few more years pass, Mary’s attitude changes for the better and she becomes a respected actress. Vivian has become bored in her marriage to Robert (Warren William), a millionaire businessman, while Ruth hasn’t hardly changed at all. When Vivian takes a cruise to distance herself from her husband and meets a wannabe gangster on-board, she takes off with the thug and becomes swept up in drugs and partying. Mary and Ruth are powerless to stop Vivian’s dangerous spiral, and even more, they’re worried about the well-being of Vivian’s son “Junior”, who is innocently caught in the middle. Humphrey Bogart makes a very small appearance as “Harve”, a gangster higher up on the seniority chain. Bonus features include: the Theatrical trailer.
Female is probably the one film in the set that strays the furthest from pre-code’s ingredients. The overall plot is basically the life of a high-powered woman named Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton), the head of a major automobile company. Her approach is as sharp as a razor’s edge. She’s the type of woman who has no time for nonsense, and even less time for anything that isn’t robotic and structured. She doesn’t date, but rather carries on affairs with her own employees. She’s married to her work more than anything else. One night while hosting a party at her large mansion, Alison realizes that the men in attendance are treating her the way she’d set herself up to be treated. They’re more interested in her money. Disgusted, Alison changes out of her expensive clothing and heads to an amusement park, where she meets Jim Thorne (George Brent). The two hit it off and have a great time. Naturally, Alison is looking to go “further”, but Jim refuses. During their next meeting, Alison again tries to seduce Jim, and is rejected a second time. Jim is an engineer and has some professional dealings with Alison; therefore, he wants their involvement to be strictly platonic. This upsets Alison, who turns to her assistant Pettigrew (Ferdinand Gottschalk), for advice. Pettigrew tells Alison that her approach, and overall demeanor is much too harsh for the average man. When she takes this into consideration, Alison realizes that she may have to change a few things to be truly happy. An interesting bit of trivia: The exterior of Alison Drake’s house was shot on location at the famous Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Bonus features include: the Theatrical trailer.
Night Nurse (1931)
1931’s Night Nurse features some the screen’s most recognizable ladies. Barbara Stanwyck headlines as Lora Hart, a woman looking for a position as a trainee nurse. She is denied for not being a high school graduate. But after getting tangled in a revolving door with the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. Arthur Bell (Charles Winninger), Bell decides to overlook the minor detail. One of Lora’s patients is Mortie (Ben Lyon) a thug whom she treats for a gunshot wound. She promises Mortie that she won’t report the wound to the police and earns his admiration in the process. Lora eventually completes her training and takes a private job caring for two sick children, Desney and Nanny Ritchie (Betty Jane Graham and Marcia Mae Jones). Desney and Nanny’s mother (Charlotte Merriam) is an over-partying socialite who always has a house full of drunken antics. Lora soon realizes that the children are being systematically starved to death, which is first evident by their frailty, but no one seems to take her concerns seriously. She quits her job and runs to Dr. Bell with the problem. Bell doesn’t want to get himself involved, but relents and tells Lora to resume work at the Ritchie household while gathering evidence of her claims. She does go back to work, and thanks to the housekeeper (who has had one too many drinks), learns of a callous plan to murder the children for their trust fund money. Lora knows that time is running short and some desperate measures are called for. Joan Blondell and Clark Gable also star in this early pre-code, but it’s clearly Stanwyck who steals the show. Clark Gable’s role was originally intended for James Cagney. However, Cagney’s success in the timeless film The Public Enemy suggested that he was no longer suited for supporting roles. Gable got the part instead. This one is gritty, blatant, and a great example of the nastiness often associated with the era. Bonus features include: Night Nurse commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta and the Theatrical trailer.
Aside from the fact that we know these films to be “in-your-face”, and that we can now enjoy them on DVD, Warner Bros. has also added a really nice documentary to the package titled Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. It’s an extremely fascinating look at a period in film that will never come again. We find those shocking ingredients to be normal in modern-day society. But when you jump in a time machine and travel over 70 years in to the past, you understand just how far the world’s tolerance has evolved. TCM has clearly become the biggest (and most consistent) source for films of this ilk. Now, with the second installment of the Forbidden Hollywood series, TCM and Warner Bros. has churned out another winner. We look forward to Volume 3!
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