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As America dealt with the Great Depression, Hollywood produced films that dared to depict debauchery in its full glory to pick up our spirits. Ladies in their lingerie drank bathtub gin while their gangster boyfriends ventilated the neighborhood. Men slept in king-sized beds with their wives, mistresses and hookers. There were plenty of good times to be found at the Bijou. Unfortunately holy rollers across the nation demanded the movie studios follow a moral code. They were upset that the stars were corrupting America’s innocent eyes. The Catholic League of Decency declared that certain films were sins if watched. The studios finally relented and made their features squeaky clean by giving teeth to the Hays Office to censor the devious moments. The days of wanton lust, savage violence, wanton violence and savage lust were over. Movie theaters were stuck booking Shirley Temple flicks. Forbidden Hollywood is a second helping of those glory days of black and white when cinema dared to be naughty and notorious.
The Divorcee (1930 – 82 minutes) is Norma Shearer gone wild. She starts off a happy married wife. Things go bad when she uncovers her husband’s philandering ways. She cheats on him to get even, but her lusty experience leads to her marriage busting up. The divorcee finds herself lost in a carnal wonderland. She becomes a slut. Does she ever stand a chance of being a good woman again? It’s easy to see how religious groups would be upset at this depiction of a married couple hitting the rocks. Shearer won the Best Actress Oscar for the role.
A Free Soul (1931 – 93 minutes) lets a drunk lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) defend a gangster (Clark Gable) on a murder charge. There’s an amazing foretelling of the pivotal moment in the O.J. Simpson trial except it’s a hat that doesn’t fit instead of a glove. Things go extremely weird for the lawyer when he discovers his daughter (Norma Shearer) has the hots for Gable. Can he stop her from dating a man that he proved innocent? If you adore Gable in Gone with the Wind, you’ll truly appreciate his performance in A Free Soul.
Night Nurse (1931 – 72 minutes) kicks off with an exciting POV shot through the window of an ambulance as it races through Los Angeles to the emergency room entrance. We are in for a wild ride inside this hospital. Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) applies for a nurse’s position even though she has no qualifications. After being turned down by the head nurse, she impresses the chief of staff with her thighs. Within five minutes, she strips down and puts on a nurse uniform with the help of Joan Blondell. The film is all about nurses in their unmentionables. Stanwyck and Blondell end up in their underwear when they have to sneak into the nurse’s quarters after dark. They even crawl into bed together. This is the precursor to Aaron Spelling’s trashy TV. Because the scantily dressed duo are caught breaking curfew, they are assigned to the night shift in the emergency room. They deal with shot bootleggers and other night crawlers. The duo get assigned to watch two sick girls in a home that doubles as a speakeasy. Clark Gable doesn’t want anyone curing the chronically ill girls. He cold cocks Stanwyck when she wants to call for help. She bleeds from his blow which would be a major no-no under the Hayes Code. This is pure tawdry cinema under William Wellman’s direction. He also helmed The Public Enemy the same year as Night Nurse.
Three On A Match (1933 – 63 minutes) has Anne Dvorak, Joan Blondell and Bette Davis as childhood friends who remain pals during their adulthood. Dvorak has stumbled into the good life when she marries a rich man. But she can’t deal with being the sweet wife and hooks up with a criminal boyfriend. She flees her husband for a life of jazz, booze and narcotics. This wouldn’t be too bad except she has dragged her child along for the downward spiral. Dvorak has a great look when she turns into a crazed junkie. Humphrey Bogart plays one of her new hoodlum friends.
Female (1933 – 60 minutes) is a tale of woman who sexually uses men like a man. Ruth Chatterton plays the president of an automobile company who enjoys diving into the secretarial pool when she’s ready for lust. When she gets tired of her latest stud, he’s transfered to the Montreal office. Trouble brews when she falls for a new employee (George Brent), but he’s not giving into his boss’s one night stand charm. Is she willing to shut down her assembly line of boy toys for him? Chatterton is unforgettable with her ball busting attitude. Nowadays we’d find her character in a Jackie Collins mini-series starring Heather Locklear.
The five films in Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 2 are worthy of being condemned by the puritanical. They dared to entertain America by exposing the seedy elements of modern living whether it be sex, drugs, illegal booze or that dreaded jazz. These weren’t the squeaky clean film that studios were forced to crank out over the next few decades. These were characters that had libidos that raged on the silver screen. Even with their tawdry topics, there’s an elegance to the lavish sets and costumes. It’s classic Hollywood with a rough edge that made it exciting for viewers.
All five films are 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers are quite sharp with plenty of detail. These films look good for being around seventy five years old. There’s a little dirt, but nothing distracting.
The soundtracks are Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are good for Vitaphone transfers. The Divorcee and Night Nurse have commentary tracks from film historians Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta. They’re reading prepared comments, but don’t sound dry and academic. The subtitles are in English and French.
Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood (1:07:52) is a fresh documentary that focuses on how the studios originally got around the Hays Office. This is a fantastic primer for those interested in studio censorship. The documentary also reminds us is that Hugh Hefner is more than the bumbling old geezer from Girls Next Door. He’s sharp as a tack when talking about movies that are as old as himself.
Three on a Match Trailer (2:22) states, “This girl wanted wealth! This girl wanted life! This girl wanted love!” But do they get it? That’s why you have to watch the film.
Night Nurse Trailer (2:33) teases us with what sort of things do those hospital ladies know about us.
Female Trailer (2:22) promises us that “Most women hide their desires….here’s the story of one who openly flaunts them!”
Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 2 is a thrilling and tawdry collection for fans of classic cinema. This isn’t the sweet, innocent stuff that your grandmother remembers.
Warner Home Video presents Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume Two. Starring Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Norma Shearer and Lionel Barrymore. Five films on three single sided, dual layer DVDs. Running time: 449 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: March 4, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.