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When one views the films of pre-code Hollywood, film fans must feel a degree of regret of all the creative opportunities that were lost due to the emergence of censorship codes to Hollywood films that came about in the early thirties. Pre-code Hollywood films explored social themes with a gritty honesty that no longer existed when the Hayes office came to be. The humanity displayed in such feels was more human, showing the sinfulness of its nature in a realistic way, and consequently, virtue to a higher degree due to a greater understanding of the trials and tribulations one must pay to be virtuous.
In Baby Face, we see the great Barbara Stanwyck in one of her earliest roles and how her nascent talent was going to make her one of the great actresses in Hollywood history. She plays a young woman who was abused from an early age, the film implying that her father either sexually abused her or made money from pimping her to customers in his low life drinking establishment. A friend of hers urges her to use her sexuality to advance herself in life, since otherwise she will face a life of despair and destitution. Another fascinating thing about the film is the respect that she shows her black friend, treating her as an equal, and the film itself actually gives the part a well rounded quality that we rarely saw any black actor receive after the pre-code era. It is ironic that the quality of roles for black actors actually deteriorated once the pre-code era came to an end.
In Red Headed Woman, we witness Jean Harlow play one of the most devious and repulsive sluts in film history. A home wrecker par excellence, Harlow is terrific in developing her character to be both believable and intriguing in her sinfulness.Read more ›
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I'm going to be honest and say that I bought this collection mostly because I wad dying to see Red-Headed Woman. I'm a huge classic film enthusiast and I'm quite familiar with the popular pre-Code genre, but Red-Headed Woman - starring the wonderful Jean Harlow - was a film that I spent years trying to hunt down (first on VHS, then on DVD or bluray). I've seen Baby Face before and liked it and I'm fairly certain I've seen Waterloo Bridge at least once on TCM.
The Forbidden Hollywood sets are a real treat for us film fans that crave a little bit (or a lot) of naughtiness circa the early 1930s. The majority of pre-Code films are great fun! So, if you're into classic film and would like to give one of these DVD collections a shot, this one is a good starting point. My favourite set of the bunch is Volume II.
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318 of 326 people found the following review helpful
Clearing Up the ConfusionOct. 13 2006
J. Michael Click
- Published on Amazon.com
There seems to be a great deal of pre-release confusion concerning what will actually be included on this upcoming set, and why. In the interest of sorting things out, I should first point out that although this is the first "Forbidden Hollywood" collection to be released by Warner Home Video on DVD, the franchise itself is not new. There were previously two "Forbidden Hollywood" boxed sets and a number of double features released on LaserDisc back in the 1990's. Additionally, quite a few "Forbidden Hollywood" titles were also offered on VHS cassette. From the git-go, "Forbidden Hollywood" titles were only culled from that cache of movies that premiered during the few short years after the introduction of "talkies" and the imposition of the Hays Production Code in 1934.
During this time frame, roughly 1929 to mid-1934, Hollywood studio product became increasingly concerned with subject matter that would later be condemned as taboo after the Code came into effect; these so-called "pre-Code talkies" were filled with characters who indulged in premarital sex, extramarital affairs, and even gay and lesbian liaisons. Films touched on hot-button topics such as rape, abortion, feminism, having children out-of-wedlock, drug abuse, and other social ills. And mind you, these things weren't just delicately hinted at in screenplays ... they frequently were shown on-screen and discussed quite frankly. After the Hays Code was adopted by the motion picture industry as a self-censorship tool, this group of films was deemed unacceptable for future distribution and exhibition without judicious editing to trim out now-objectionable material, and so they became, literally, "Forbidden Hollywood" product.
This new two-disc DVD set will feature three titles, but four films, two of them extremely rare. The first disc will include James Whale's 1931 "Waterloo Bridge", a film once thought "lost" and for the last 20 years only screened at film retrospectives (and apparently once or twice on TCM several years ago). The 1940 remake starring Vivien Leigh, though a wonderful and deservedly beloved film, will not be included here since it is not from the pre-Code era, and was never suppressed as part of the "Forbidden Hollywood" catalogue. Instead, the second film on this first disc will be the racy 1932 Jean Harlow vehicle, "Red-Headed Woman", which pushed the envelope back in the day for its bold depiction of a sexually free secretary who sets her sights on her married boss.
The second disc will include two versions of a single film, the 1933 scorcher "Baby Face", starring Barbara Stanwyck as a blonde bombshell who - after being pimped out by her father in her own hometown - moves to New York and sleeps her way up the corporate ladder to the very top. Many film historians point to "Baby Face" as the single film most responsible for the introduction of the Hays Code, the one that ushered in an era of censorship that was to last for more than 30 years. Intriguingly, the version that so shocked the public was actually an edited version of the original cut, which then disappeared for over 70 years ... until a complete print was found, restored, and finally premiered on the revival circuit in early 2006. That long-awaited, long-sought original version will be included on this set, as will be the edited version that managed to cause such an uproar when it played theatres in 1933.
And there you have it, the official contents of the "Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume One", enough to have a large number of pre-Code devotees jumping for joy at the chance to finally see (and own!) some seldom-displayed jewels. Let's just all hope that Volumes Two, Three, and so on are quick to follow!
154 of 160 people found the following review helpful
An excellent choiceSept. 11 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
The films of Pre-Code Hollywood (before 1934) have always held a special place in the history of Hollywood. The subjects were treated far more realistically than after the Code was imposed. This selection focuses on 3 films with 3 major central performances.
"Baby Face", starring a relentless Barbara Stanwyck, is a 1933 Warner Brothers film which traces the rise and rise of a tart. Stanwyck was quoted once as saying that the film was slated for her to give her glamour but that is the least of it. She is certainly dolled up but it is her tough realism that really makes the role as she leaves a trail of men in her path from poverty to riches. The early scenes in her father's speakeasy are particulary powerful. Look for a young John Wayne in the cast too. The DVD contains the recently discovered Director's Cut before the film was hacked by the Censors, so you really get to see what the fuss was about. It is interesting to observe how the cuts did not destroy the flow of the story. Part of the Censor's objections was that the heroine did not get her come-uppance so the tacked on ending in the cut version assures us that she ends up where she started, which was in fact ambiguous in the original version.
"Red Headed Woman" is probably Jean Harlow's toughest role, playing like Stanwyck a heartless tart who climbs her way to the top. Other actresses on the MGM payroll did not want the unsympathetic role but Harlow, with hair dyed from the trademark platinum blonde, has the requisite humour to put it over. Parts of the film are very funny with Una Merkel entertaining as Harlow's sidekick. The ending is hilarious with no contrived retribution for our heroine. The film really helped put Harlow on top and type cast her in the public's mind even when MGM later softened her image.
"Waterloo Bridge" is the early Universal version of the MGM favorite, this time directed by James Whale. Film historians who have seen this version have always claimed it is far superior to the version starring Vivien Leigh in 1940 with a memorable performance by Mae Clarke. (By the way, that's Mae Clarke peeking out of the DVD Case). It is a treat to see and notable for a very early appearance of Bette Davis in a small supporting role. Compared to the MGM film, this version is much closer to the original play, both in script and the way it is filmed. It has a realism and sense of tragedy which is more moving than the glossy tearjerker from MGM. Douglas Montgomery, as the soldier, is far more convincing than the starry Robert Taylor but you can see why it would never have been the box office bonanza the MGM version was - the difference between parsimonious Universal in 1931 and glamorous MGM in 1940.
The DVD set contains trailers of "Baby Face" and "Red Headed Woman" and a cursory introduction by Robert Osborne. The film prints are fine given the age of the films. The worst is probably the released version of "Baby Face" but once you have picked up where the cuts were made, you may not view it again, so it doesn't matter.
The package would have been improved with a suitable documentary about the significance of the films, if only because both "Baby Face" and "Red Headed Woman" explore some interesting ideas about the power of woman over men. In both films, men are the victims, in the former of Stanwyck's hatred and the latter Harlow's greed. Both women use sex brazenly to achieve their ambitions.
54 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Pre-Code Goodness!Sept. 6 2006
Reine des Coeurs
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For many fans of Pre-Code cinema, the only options to watching the movies we cherish has been to fastiduously comb through television listings, spend outrageous sums of money on limited release VHS versions or pray that your particular favorite is released with a Signature Collection DVD set. Pre-Codes aren't often given prime time slots and some of the best ones are still vaulted and unavailable in any format. Thank goodness this particular set is being released and may it hopefully be the springboard for the release of many other such sets.
As for the films themeselves, "Red Headed Woman", "Baby Face" and "Waterloo Bridge" are excellent choices both for connisseurs and classic film fans unfamiliar with this particular time in cinematic history. Jean Harlow could not have become the movie myth she eventually did in the post Breen years. Stanwyck, an exceptional actress in many genres, was at her best in many of her Pre-Codes and it's about time her fans got the chance to see one of her devilish best. As a fan of Mark Viera's "Sin in Soft Focus" and Mick LaSalle's "Complicated Women" who has not yet had the opportunity to watch the much praised Mae Clark, "Waterloo Bridge", I cannot wait to see this particular film.
December cannot come quickly enough.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
A Fascinating Trio of Pre-Code Hollywood Films Highlighted by Stanwyck's Blazing PerformanceDec 7 2006
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Before the Hays Code neutralized the sexually oriented behavior that could be shown in Hollywood movies for three decades, there was a crop of movies that reflected a more laissez-faire attitude toward risqué subjects like promiscuity, homosexuality and drug use. In what looks to be the first volume of an intriguing series, this two-disc DVD set from Turner Classic Movies contains three epochal works from that brief period that started with the talkie revolution and ended abruptly in 1934.
The oldest of the trio, 1931's "Waterloo Bridge", is fairly typical of the pre-code genre and has only a fleeting similarity to the glamorous 1940 MGM version with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. Directed by James Whale before he peaked with "Frankenstein" and "Showboat", this film is set in WWI London and stars the long-forgotten Mae Clarke, an actress best known for being the recipient of James Cagney's grapefruit attack in "The Public Enemy". She plays Myra, an American chorus girl who turns to prostitution when her show closes. Unlike Leigh's ethereal ballerina in the later film, Clarke's Myra is all bitterness with a shaft of hope in the form of an American soldier named Roy, whom she accidentally meets during an air raid. He comes from a wealthy family who find out about her profession, which leads to the inevitable consequences. Clarke is solid as Myra, though she does go overboard in her breakdown scene. Kent Douglass is rather wooden as Roy, though he certainly captures the soldier's callow nature. Done on the cheap by Universal and at only 81 minutes, it's an interesting and sometimes poignant curio thanks mostly to Whale's dexterity with melodrama. A freshly scrubbed, 23-year old Bette Davis shows up in the inconsequential role of Roy's sister.
In full hellcat mode even without her platinum blonde tresses, Jean Harlow has her breakthrough role starring in 1932's more comically oriented "Red-Headed Woman", an obvious MGM product given its high production values. She plays Lil Andrews, an unapologetic gold-digger who seduces her boss Bill Legendre and steals him away from his staid fiancée Irene. Bored and tried of being looked down upon once they are married, she moves on to an older, wealthier man to ensnare but not before she tries to shoot her husband. But Lil's amoral behavior finds her being further rejected, especially when she is caught with a French chauffeur, played by a very young Charles Boyer with his trademark continental flair already established. For all the pain Lil causes to the other characters in the story, she ends up happily unrepentant in Paris, a fact which really defines this as a pre-code movie. At only 21, Harlow is already confident and brassy, even though Anita Loos' script has her teetering precariously between comedy and melodrama. Chester Morris is rather stiff as Bill, but Una Merkel shines as Lil's best friend Sally. Take note of the forthright way the camera lingers on Lil and Sally as they change in and out of their negligees.
By far, the most interesting of the three films is 1933's "Baby Face", a hard-boiled Warner Brothers film starring a very young Barbara Stanwyck. A consummate master at portraying Machiavellian cool, a technique she perfected eleven years later in Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity", Stanwyck plays Lily Powers, the well-worn daughter of a violent speakeasy owner in a suffocating steel-town. She has been rendered cynical and numb by years of being offered up as a sexual favor to her father's customers. Once her father dies in a distillery explosion, she hops a freight train to New York and literally sleeps her way up the corporate ladder of a bank. This would come across as preposterous were it not for Stanwyck's blazing work here. With her dead-eyed stare and amoral seduction methods, it is easy to see why men become addicted to her aggressive carnality. One of the young men she seduces along the way is a fresh-faced John Wayne as of all things, an accountant named Jimmy McCoy. The melodrama gets heavy-handed toward the last third of the film with a murder-suicide, a hush-hush job in Paris to keep Lily quiet and the new bank president who is so addicted to Lily that he embezzles company funds to keep her in luxury. A tacked-on ending is somewhat disappointing but not before Stanwyck sears the screen. The film has curious touches like Lily's bonding friendship with an African-American woman named Chico and the German immigrant who teaches Lily about Nietzsche philosophy regarding the importance of avoiding sentimentality.
The first disc contains "Waterloo Bridge and "Red Headed Woman" with an introduction by Turner Classic Movies' Robert Osborne. The second disc has two versions of "Baby Face" - the original theatrical release version and the newly found, uncensored version, which includes seemingly minor edits and scene extensions that really make this an even more fascinating movie.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Cover Your Eyes!Dec 30 2006
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The Forbidden Hollywood series on VHS was one of the most exciting for pre-code Hollywood fans. The series featured movies made before there were strict rules placed on what was and was not considered decent in movies, many of them with shocking and very modern subjects including sex, drugs, and crime. This is the first DVD release of that series, two previously released films and a new one.
Let us start with Baby Face, perhaps the most shocking of all pre-code films. We have two versions here, the uncut version and the one that was released to the public. The uncut version features less than ten minutes of new footage throughout the film. It is difficult to recognize all of it because none of it disrupts the flow of the film. The story is about Barbara Stanwyck, a woman who was pimped out by her father to the drunken men who visited their illegal saloon. She has hardened herself to men, and when her father dies, she sets her sights on a large office building and sleeps her way to the top. This might sound dull, especially since this subject is not uncommon in modern films, but Stanwyck's likability and boldness make for a wonderful movie, one you can watch over and over. Watch for an early appearance by John Wayne.
Next we have Red Headed Woman, a film starring platinum blonde Jean Harlow with a dye job. Her character is similar to that in Baby Face, but she's much classier in a beautiful wardrobe. Lil schemes her way into the arms of a married man and does all she can to turn his life upside down. She moves from man to man with no regard for her reputation or the dignity of the men she ruins. Although she's an evil character, we somehow enjoy the ride anyway. Also appearing is Una Merkel as Lil's loyal friend.
Last is a new release, Waterloo Bridge. Mae Clarke plays a chorus girl turned prostitute who meets up with an innocent soldier on leave (Kent Douglass). The two fall in love but she cannot marry him because of her previous life. Clarke's acting is brilliant, subtle, but incredibly telling of her abilities. She seems much more beautiful here than in any other film. This version is vastly different from subsequent re-makes and stands tall on its own. Also appearing is a young Bette Davis in an early role.
Unfortunately, manufacturers made a mistake when labeling the disks. Disk one has photos of Harlow and Clarke but features both versions of Baby Face. Disk two has a photo of Stanwyck but holds the other two movies and the introduction by Robert Osbourne.
All in all, this DVD release is fantastic. Each film looks incredible; the images are clear and beautiful. Each provide a glimpse into an era that was cut short but which still glows with intensity.