'TCM Archives - Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 2'
(Norma Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, et al / 3-Disc DVD / NR / 2008 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: What is truly interesting about the pre-Code films included in this set is that they all seem to show women in strong roles and drinking as common but unsavory. Although the sequences with women undressing were most certainly shocking at the time, and part of the reason many claimed that the cinema was immoral, by today’s standards these films probably seem more realistic and honest than those made decades after. This is not to say that the Production Code, which sought to censor the films coming from Hollywood, was a completely negative thing. It was responsible for cultivating a sophisticated group of filmmakers who were able to achieve great success finding loopholes and tricks to say what they really wanted without upsetting the censors. This skill was marvelously owed to the censorship, but these early films still have much raw energy to be admired.
DVD Verdict: The Divorcee (1930) - Directed by Robert Z. Leonard (The Great Ziegfield, Pride and Prejudice) and based on the novel “Ex-Wife” by Ursula Parrott, The Divorcee stars Norma Shearer in an Oscar winning performance about a wife who decides to get back at her philandering husband by beating him at his own game. The couple splits and tries sleeping with other people, but they secretly long for each other and are tortured by the mistakes they have made in their marriage. This is the first of two films starring Shearer in the set. The second shares the same disc as this film, which runs at just over 80 minutes. There is also a commentary track available by film historians.
A Free Soul (1931) - This second Norma Shearer vehicle was later remade as The Girl Who had Everything (1953), starring Elizabeth Taylor, although it was not nearly as shocking as this version. Shearer stars as the naïve young daughter of a brilliant defense lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) who has just helped keep a mobster (Clark Gable) out of jail. This turns out bad for the lawyer when his silly daughter falls in love with the gangster. This all seems fine until she promises never to see him in order to get her father to stop drinking. Barrymore’s performance as a realistically shown alcoholic along with his fantastic court speech at the end earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. Gable is also remarkably good in his early villainous role.
3 on a Match (1932) - At just 64-minutes, this hardly seems a proper film (technically a feature film is at least 70-minutes), but 3 on a Match uses every minute and crams a full story in, complete with Humphrey Bogart in his first gangster role. The story follows the relationship swapping between three women who knew each other during childhood. It is simple melodrama, but well done. Also has a remarkably young Bette Davis in one of the starring roles.
Female (1933) - Based on a story by Donald Henderson Clark and directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), Female is a humorous and scandal role-reversal film that has Ruth Chatterton starring as the wealthy president of an automobile factory, and a sexual predator with her male workers. If the ending of this feminist comedy about women’s lives in the 1930s were taken too seriously it might seem extremely sexist. Unless it was meant to be taken seriously, and in that case, all I have to say is “wow”. This is another short but good one at just about 60-minutes.
Night Nurse (1931) - Barbara Stanwyck spends a great deal of time having conversations while dressing and undressing in this entertaining crime drama about a Night Nurse who discovers a plot to kill the children she cares for. Gable is back again as a villainous chauffeur who has plotted for a way to get the inheritance of two sweet little girls, and Stanwyck manages to uncover the plot in-between dressing and undressing. Also included on this third disc in the set is a new documentary, Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. There is also a commentary on Night Nurse by film historians. These are all Full Screen Versions and come with the Special Features:
All-new documentary: Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood
Commentaries on the Divorce and Night Nurse by film historians Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta
Theatrical trailers of Female, Night Nurse and Three on a Match