Warner Home Video presents
Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume One (Baby Face / Red Headed Woman / Waterloo Bridge) (1931-1933)
"A woman, young, beautiful like you, can get anything she wants in the world, because she has power over men. But you must use men, not let them use you."- Adolf Cragg (Alphonse Ethier), in Baby Face
Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Mae Clarke, Kent Douglass
Other Stars: Donald Cook, Alphone Ethier, Henry Kolker, John Wayne, Lewis Stone, Leila Hyams, Una Merkel, Henry Stephenson, Charles Boyer, Doris Lloyd, Bette Davis
Director: Alfred E. Green, Jack Conway, James Whale
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material, sensuality, violence, suicide)
Run Time: 03h:55m:39s
Release Date: 2006-12-05
DVD ReviewIn the years before the Production Code really took hold of the American movie industry in 1934 and 1935, ever more daring and suggestive pictures were being released, the likes of which wouldn't be seen again for nearly 40 years. The collection brings together three notorious examples of Pre-Code talkies.
Baby Face (1933) features the relentless social climb of Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck), inspired by Nietzsche to be utterly cold and manipulative. Using her sexual wiles to the uttermost, she gets herself a job at the Gotham Trust Co., then ascends up the corporate ladder by using and discarding men, destroying lives and careers, presiding over their destruction with a knowing sneer. But she meets her match in bank president Courtland Trenholm (George Brent), finding new depths to him and herself as his bank begins to collapse in the depression.
The title is probably meant ironically, since there was no battleaxe more sharp-edged than Stanwyck, but she cruises through the role with delightful cruelty. A walking sexual-harassment suit, Lily mostly shows her devotion to her maid Chico (Theresa Harris), giving the picture a lesbian subtext that's also provocative for the time. Even though the main title song was quite popular, it's Chico's repeated renditions of St. Louis Blues that give the picture a truly raunchy feeling, while also commenting on Lily's manipulations. Warner provides both the watered-down theatrical release version and a recently-discovered original cut that is more explicit about Lily's use of sexual favors to get what she wants, and dispenses with the redemptive epilogue of the theatrical version. This uncut version is clearly the preferable one, and the theatrical release is of interest mainly for historical and comparative purposes. Look for a young John Wayne as one of the bank clerks, a far cry from his Western hero image.
Jean Harlow goes from platinum blonde to red in Red Headed Woman (1932), another tale of a manipulative woman. Lil Andrews (Harlow) works similar sexual shenanigans with her boss, Bill Legendre (Chester Morris), breaking up his marriage to Irene (Leila Hyams) and causing all kinds of trouble. But she's not satisfied with one man, and also works to seduce coal magnate Charles Gaerste (Henry Stephenson), as well as his chauffeur Albert (Charles Boyer).
Delightful as Harlow is, what really makes Red Headed Woman work is the sparkling screenplay by Anita Loos, author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (a wry reference to which is in the first line of the picture). The dialogue is crackling and clever, helping make Harlow even more charming. The Pre-Code aspects are rife, from infidelity to alcoholism, and there's no punishment of any kind for Lil's transgressions. True to form, she winds up on top with a smirk. While there are a lot of similarities to the Stanwyck piece, this one is a lot more fun.
Before James Whale was tapped to replace Robert Florey as director of Frankenstein (1931), he had been a stage director, and his first two pictures were adaptations of stage dramas about World War I, Journey's End and Waterloo Bridge (1931). The latter is notable for its portrayal of a sympathetic prostitute, Myra Deauville (Mae Clarke, who would also appear in Frankenstein for Whale later that year). A former chorus girl, Myra falls on hard times and turns to prostitution with the soldiers. She meets a naive American, Roy Cronin (Douglass Montgomery, billed as Kent Douglass), who immediately falls in love with her, not understanding how she makes her living. Despite her efforts to discourage him, Roy is determined, and surreptitiously arranges for her to meet his family and begs her to marry him. Unable to admit the truth to him, she finally does so to his sister Janet (Bette Davis, in one of her first roles). But Roy persists, and the doomed romance careens to its inevitable conclusion.
The production, from Robert E. Sherwood's drama of the same name, is pretty stagey, with very little camera movement, though Whale does make good use of shadow and Expressionistic technique during the zeppelin air raid sequences, which allow for a bit of opening up of the proscenium. Clarke tends to get a bit histrionic at times, though she also manages to be quite charming. Roy's obtuseness is a bit much, though it's possible to read the last portion of the picture as him having known all along that Myra is a prostitute, but that he won't accept it. A pair of socks that Myra agrees to knit for Roy at the front become an important symbol through the running time, finally and touchingly unraveled by Myra just as her life unravels. It's a reasonably good drama but can't hold a candle to the sparkle of the other two movies in the set.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame presentations generally look pretty good for their age, though the theatrical version of Baby Face is in rather rough shape and dupey. The others have the occasional nick and fairly heavy grain, but provide nice clarity and detail. They're quite presentable, under the circumstances.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The original mono soundtracks are present, and you're forced to make allowance for the fact that they're early talkies. All of the movies have noticeable noise and hiss to varying degrees, and the range is understandably limited. They're well within the reasonable range of audio quality for the period, however. Don't expect high fidelity, and everyone will be happy.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 64 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: TCM host Robert Osborne provides a rather uninformative and brief introduction to the set (which unaccountably appears on Disc 2), and there's a worn trailer for Baby Face, but that's about as good as it gets here. Some more material on the Production Code (perhaps even quoting the sections that would have been applicable to these pictures) would certainly have seemed like a natural addition.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsA collection of three classic Pre-Code pictures in reasonably nice shape, though the extras are scanty.
Mark Zimmer 2007-01-03