All six of the entries in this set were directed by William Wellman. Since the announcement I've heard some people complain about what's in this set, but I take my hat off to Warner Home Video for going into their archives and pulling out some lesser known titles. Besides, who says WHV is through with the franchise? They have enough films of this type to fill up several more volumes. This set looks at some of the working conditions of depression era America in "Other Men's Women", and some of the worst social issues of the depression itself in "Wild Boys of the Road" and "Heroes for Sale", in addition to the films with sexual themes for which pre-code films are primarily remembered.
1930's "Other Men's Women" stars Grant Withers as railroad worker Bill White who becomes enamored of the wife (Mary Astor) of his close friend Jack (Regis Toomey). Both men are railroad workers, and prior to coming home to live with Jack and his wife Bill has been romancing a tough waitress (Joan Blondell) among others, getting drunk every night to the point of almost losing his job, and finally gets ejected from his rooming house. At Jack's house he finds the kind of home he's never had, and he and Jack's wife, Lily, fall in love, but due to their mutual loyalty to Jack, do nothing about it. However, Jack does find out and he and Bill have it out one night on the train in what turns out to be a bad place for a fist fight. Grant Withers never made it as a leading man, and it is interesting to see him in this film, and also in his previous leading role "Sinner's Holiday", getting upstaged by the dynamic James Cagney, who has a very small role in both movies.
1933's "Wild Boys of the Road" shows that the folks in "Other Men's Women" were lucky to at least have a steady paycheck. Here the depression invades the lives of a group of boys whose families are down to their last nickels. The movie starts out with the boys going to a high school dance, and ends up with them living in a shanty town full of youth in similar situations - looking for work and figuring that they are doing their families a favor by not being one more mouth to feed. A kindly judge gives the film a rather pat ending, but overall this is a very good movie.
Commentary by William Wellman Jr. and Frank Thompson
Sittin' on a Backyard Fence
One Step Ahead of My Shadow
The Trans-Atlantic Mystery Short
1933's "Heroes For Sale" stars Richard Barthelmess as Tom Holmes, a man who lives through a series of improbable events more as a symbol of the times than a reasonable expectation of what could happen to one single man. Tom is cheated out of a medal for bravery in WWI, becomes addicted to morphine as a result of a battle wound, loses his job in a bank when his addiction is found out, becomes rich through the invention of a machine that is the creation of his neighbor, becomes an outcast in the "Red scares", and ultimately becomes one of the many men marching from town to town in search of nonexistent jobs. Most remarkably, Tom never seems to get beaten down or chewed up by life. His hopeful spirit remains intact.
Commentary by John Gallagher
1932's "The Purchase Price" has Barbara Stanwyck as Joan Gordon, a torch singer who wants to get away from her lifestyle. A maid in the hotel in which she is staying has arranged to become a mail-order bride for Jim Gilson (George Brent) a North Dakota farmer. Joan gets her to agree to let her to take her place as the mail order bride. On their first meeting Joan makes it clear she isn't ready to be a real wife to Jim yet, but roughing it on the prairie together and the reappearance of her slimy boyfriend in her life eventually bring the pair closer together.
You Don't Know What You're Doin'!
Moonlight for Two
The Wall Street Mystery Short
In 1932's Frisco Jenny Ruth Chatterton stars as someone who lives through the Great Earthquake of 1906 to become the head of a very profitable brothel. Louis Calhern is Jenny's slimy friend who convinces her to give up her son, and this whole thing plays out somewhat like Chatterton's 1929 film "Madame X". This is the weakest of the films in the bunch, but Calhern and Chatterton make it worthwhile viewing.
1933's "Midnight Mary" has Loretta Young in the title role. At the beginning of the film she is awaiting a jury's verdict on her guilt in a murder case. As she waits she looks back on her life from her being wrongfully convicted of a theft and sent to reform school, to getting involved with an older man after her release, and her downward slide that ends when she meets Tom Mannering Jr. (Franchot Tone). However, the players in her old life are not content to just let her go.
Commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta
The Studio Murder Mystery
Goofy Movies #1
Classic Cartoon: Bosko's Parlor Pranks
Bonus disc with two full-length documentaries.
Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick
The documentary traces Wellman's life from his birth in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1896, through his distinguished World War I career as a flier (which later got him the job of directing the classic silent film Wings), his start as a mail boy at Goldwyn, his rise to director in the 20's, his five marriages and stormy career through the 30's to late 50's, with a total filmography of more than 80 films.
The Men Who Made the Movies
William Wellman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter-director of the original A Star Is Born (1937), was called "Wild Bill" during his World War I service as an aviator, a nickname that persisted in Hollywood due to his "larger-than-life" personality and lifestyle. He excelled as an athlete and particularly enjoyed playing ice hockey, but he also enjoyed less savory pastimes, like joy-riding in stolen cars at night.
I've seen the "Men Who Made the Movies" documentary on TCM, and it is excellent. All in all, this looks like another enjoyable entry in the Forbidden Hollywood Franchise.