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Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 3 (TCM Archives) (Sous-titres franais)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Various
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, Color, DVD-Video, NTSC, Original recording remastered, Restored
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Canadian Home Video Rating : Ages 14 and over
  • MPAA Rating: NR
  • Studio: Warner Bros. Home Video
  • Release Date: March 24 2009
  • Run Time: 518 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • ASIN: B001OSC4G0
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #31,518 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)
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Product Description

Product Description

Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 3 (TCM Archives) (DVD)

Special Features

Other Men's Women You Don't Know What You're Doin'! [1931 WB Cartoon] Theatrical Trailer Purchase Price The Wall Street Mystery [1931 WB Short] Moonlight for Two [1932 WB Cartoon] Theatrical Trailer Frisco Jenny The Studio Murder Mystery [1932 WB Short] Theatrical Trailer Midnight Mary Commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta Goofy Movies #1 [1933 MGM Short] Bosko's Parlor Pranks [1934 MGM Cartoon] Theatrical Trailer Heroes For Sale Commentary by John Gallagher The Trans-Atlantic Mystery [1932 WB Short] Sittin' on a Backyard Fence [1933 WB Cartoon] Theatrical Trailer Wild Boys of the Road Commentary by William Wellman Jr. and Frank Thompson One Step Ahead of My Shadow [1933 WB Cartoon] Theatrical Trailer

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This collection offers the marvelous pre-code films of William Wellman, one of the most under-rated directors in Hollywood history. He is truly one of the great directors in its history, yet he is relatively obscure and unknown to modern audiences.

My favourate film in this collection is without question Heroes for Sale, starring a forgotten but very talented Richard Barthelmess. Seeing his performance in this film, one cannot help but wonder why he did not emerge as a major star in the 1930's. His charisma and acting range contribute much to a film that does a wonderful job describing the social reaction to the suffering of the great depression, the dehumanization of the poor, and offers an interesting perspective of the social consequences of technology making valuable jobs redundant and obsolete. Though Barthelmess had been a major silent film star, unlike many of his peers, his voice carried well on film, so it is rather regretful we did not see more of him in sound films.

The second best film in this collection stars a very young and beautiful Loretta Young in Midnight Mary. I cannot recall a film in which she was any more sensually beautiful as she is in this film. The story may be a bit weak and corny, but this is secondary to enjoying Young's performance and the social commentary of the film about how difficult it is to economically survive during the depression era, particularly if one is a woman and/or background of poverty and low social status. Wild Boys of the Road has a similar theme, and though relatively well done, lacks the charisma or star presence of a Loretta Young, and as a result is somewhat forgettable.

Other Men's Women is a sad film about heart wrenching betrayal.
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Perfect condition, brand new. Everything I wanted :)
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Great films but one disc was scratched & skips. Too much trouble to return it. The rating is for the shipper, Amazon. The rating for the TCM films is 5 Stars.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa1647900) out of 5 stars 42 reviews
70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1bb23cc) out of 5 stars Another great entry in the Forbidden Hollywood series Jan. 3 2009
By calvinnme - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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

Classic Cartoons:
Sittin' on a Backyard Fence
One Step Ahead of My Shadow
The Trans-Atlantic Mystery Short

Theatrical Trailers

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.

Classic Cartoons:
You Don't Know What You're Doin'!
Moonlight for Two
The Wall Street Mystery Short

Theatrical Trailers

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
Theatrical Trailers

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.
68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1bb278c) out of 5 stars Pre-code Hollywood - the William Wellman collection Jan. 2 2009
By Douglas M - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Each collection in the "Forbidden Hollywood" always contains something of interest and Volume 3 is no exception. This set focuses on 5 Warner Brother's programmers and 1 from MGM but all directed by William Wellman, a director with a notable flair for a gutsy, rough and tumble story. None of the films are really very well known except maybe to enthusiasts. At this point in Wellman's career, he was a Warner Brother's contract director, tackling whatever came his way so the films adhere to no particular genre. Here's what you get:

- The earliest (1931) film is "Other Men's Women". This one has James Cagney and Joan Blondell before they became leads. They support Mary Astor, Grant Withers and Regis Toomey in an entertaining triangle story set around workers on the railroads. Astor, of the 3 leads, is particularly convincing as the wife whose marital contentment is innocently disrupted by husband Toomey's best friend, Withers. The situation is surprisingly mature. Cagney only has a few scenes but one is a standout when he arrives at a dance hall, sheds his oils, goes into a flirtatious dance, grabs his girl and moves towards the dancefloor. Blondell plays Wither's girlfriend and has a very good drunk scene. Wellman was obviously keen to free up the camera in this early talkie and there are a lot of lengthy tracking shots in single takes with the camera shaking away, including some scenes taken on top of a moving train. It is impressive.
- "The Purchase Price", released in 1932, stars Barbara Stanwyck as a nightclub singer who becomes a mail order bride to get away from her mob connections. George Brent is miscast as Stanwyck's bucolic husband and the film focuses on her adjustment to her new life and the circumstances which finally lead to the couple consumating their marriage. Stanwyck's transition from Broadway baby to country wife is unconvincing not due to any limitations of the actress but due to the poor screenplay. This film is really weak, a mishmash of unsubtle comedy and melodrama and not one of Stanwyck's finer moments. The entertainment value is almost non-existent. Incidentally, Stanwyck, looking very tough, delivers a song in the first scene in her own shaky contralto.
- In 1933, Wellman directed Ruth Chatterton as "Frisco Jenny", a prostitute and unwed mother who gives up her son and is later convicted of murder and sent to the gallows by the District Attorney who just happens to be that boy of hers (shades of "Madame X"). Chatterton specialised in soap operas and the film is the least typical of the set. By Warner Brothers standards, this is a lush production with many closeups of the mature Chatterton whose acting is fine. The best bits are the meetings between Jenny and the brothel owners.
- "Wild Boys of the Road" is a raw depression saga of 3 teenagers who hit the road to find work and ease the burden on their poor families. Until its resolution from a kindly judge, it is a relentless film with a documentary feel. Frankie Darro is the talented lead and Wellman's future wife, the Busby Berkeley chorus girl, Dorothy Coonan, plays Sally. It certainly is as harrowing a record of the depression as any film of the time.
- "Heroes for Sale" may be the most interesting film in the set. Long forgotten Richard Barthelmess stars as a war veteran who overcomes addiction to morphine administered for a war wound, becomes a successful capitalist, is wrongly prisoned for inciting a riot, then returns to the unemployment queues and homelessness due to associations with Communism. It is a surprising film with many confronting social issues. A flop in its day, it is filled with cynicism for capitalism and the communist is portrayed first as an excentric fool then as a facist hypocrite once he can make money. Barthelmess gives a great performance and is supported by the superb Aline McMahon who runs a soup kitchen and the luminous Loretta Young who has a shocking death scene. The film ends on an optimistic note with reference to Roosevelt and the New Deal, a direct reflection of the Brothers Warner's own political views. Wellman is much more than a studio director here and all the scenes from the battleground to the riots are superbly realised.
- The MGM film is "Midnight Mary". Loretta Young stars as an underworld moll placed on trial. The film is told in flashback while Young awaits her verdict for murder. This was an unusual film in Young's career for she rarely played bad girls. In 1933, she was a radiant, sensitive and extremely beautiful 19 year old leading lady with no hints of the sometimes artificial actress she became. The film has an MGM gloss which at times detracts from its reality and Franchot Tone plays the typical dull but wealthy MGM leading man. Young is overdressed at times and the ending is weak but Wellman keeps the film clipping along with some unusual editing and great camera angles.

The prints are in very good order, although the soundtrack of the first film is hard to hear at times. The extras are generous, with good commentaries on the 3 films which warrant them, cartoons, vitaphone shorts and theatrical trailers. There are 2 documentaries about Wellman. One benefits from exerpts from an interview with the feisty director himself and many of his comments are paraphrased in the other longer more comprehensive documentary. It is also worth noting that all of the films are populated with great supporting character actors such as Charles Grapewin, J Carroll Naish, Robert Barrat and Minna Gombell. These people add so much texture to all of the films.

This set has broadened the appeal of the Forbidden Hollywood Series because, unlike its pre-decessors, it does not focus soley on promiscuous leading ladies. The films cover many more themes which became out of bounds after the code other than adultery and gangsters, with the exception of "Midnight Mary". That maybe a negative for some.

Incidentally, that's a saucy Joan Blondell on the cover of the box!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1bb2300) out of 5 stars Wild Bill of the Road July 14 2010
By Klein Tonio - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
One has to admit that not all of these six pictures directed by William Wellman are masterpieces. But it is nevertheless fascinating that "Wild Bill" was able to turn a mediocre script within a limited time schedule and budget to good, vivid, fast-moving entertainment. And one should honour TCM to have made these six pre-code B-pictures available in good quality and with English subtitles. Therefore, I will rate the entire collection five stars, even if not any of the movies deserves this highest score. Note that three of the six pictures are accompanied by an audio commentary and that the fourth DVD contains two Wellman-documentaries (60 and 90 minutes long) which are both worth watching. I will now give some indications about the six movies:

"Wild Boys Of The Road" (1933) is one of two films in this collection dealing with the not-so-great depression. It gives a deep and realistic insight in the mass phenomenon of juveniles roaming through the country, trying to escape poverty and founding their own half-legal colonies, sometimes battling with the representatives of the public order. It is valuable that Wellman is far from any MGM- or Paramount-polishing and that he has the courage to cast only unknown teenage actors who behave as good or bad as adults do - but who are also more progressive than their predecessors (and than other movies of the time). Note that under precarious circumstances, the kids cannot afford to cultivate their parents' prejudice and that they have, at last, equality of races and equality of sex (one tough and courageous girl is first taken for a boy and wins a fistfight against a boy). It is clear that Wellman sympathizes with the teenagers - but this also weakens the film considerably. Especially in the final scene, the old, wise judge who has only to look at a picture of his well-dressed and very fat own child in order to understand that the juvenile delinquent has to be given his second chance, is pure stereotype and cliché and almost unwatchable. As a bad ending may ruin a whole picture, I'd rate it only three stars, although most parts of it are very good.

"Heroes For Sale" (1933) is the much better "depression movie" which shows the problems of a Word War I-veteran to re-integrate in civil society. The war action scenes are much more dynamic than those in Raoul Walshs "The Roaring Twenties" (1939), the characters are less stereotype than in "Wild Boys Of The Road", and you have not only (as it was often the case in a Warner picture of the period) a fascinating overview of American History and its impact on the masses and the working class, but also great performances of Richard Barthelmess, Aline MacMahon and Loretta Young. Five stars without any hesitation.

While Loretta Young is only a supporting actress in "Heroes For Sale", she is the star in the title role of "Midnight Mary" (1933), which is the only MGM picture of the collection. But don't expect the usual MGM polishing! Maybe the look is a little different from the Warner Brothers' social dramas, but this does not dilute the hard-boiled character Wellman was able to impose on the film even under MGM conditions. In an interesting flashback structure, Mary (who is to be trialed in court for murder) lets her life pass by, from the age of nine until today, at the age of 23 (note that the 19-year-old Loretta Young plays Mary in ALL scenes, which, believe it or not, is totally convincing). One may realize that an MGM production, even a B-picture like this one, was done very attentively, with much care for all aspects of filmmaking like acting, camerawork, lighting, props etc. These aspects heightened, "Midnight Mary" is better in the details than a typical Warner Picture shot in only a few weeks. But Wellman has managed the sharp social realism not to be washed out! The young Loretta Young is already a very fine actress with a smile you hardly can resist... and she can be the charming and the down-to-earth tough girl at the same time. Wellman has imposed a fast-moving editing on this picture, renouncing on the usual fade-out/fade-in-structure, but passing from scene to scene by fast pan shots without apparent cutting which gives the film a more realistic and less artificial tone. It moves from scene to scene as Young passes continuously from lot to lot, from the guts to the big shots and to the guts again. Young has some remarkable scenes, such as her reaction on another job refused, where she first seems to laugh at a concurrent, but than her laughter gets a somehow lunatic attitude and turns into a strange sort of sobbing. This is far from the full frontal devotion to the obvious in a Warner Picture! It seems that Wellman and MGM knew quite well what a fine young actress they had, because in a scene, every ad Mary sees on the street turns for her into a "no jobs"-announcement. And when she walks by a cinema, even the announcement of a new JOAN CRAWFORD vehicle (one of the MGMs A-stars at that time) does the same, maybe suggesting that compared to Loretta Young, Crawford could get out of work... Young indeed reminds a little of a very young and less harsh Crawford. Not only because of her, this B-picture is to be highly acclaimed and clearly deserves five stars.

"Other Men's Women" (1930) is not to be forgotten and/or underrated. This again is one of the typical working class Warner Brothers pictures, situated among a group of railroaders, portraying their work, their private relationships and their dreams. Although it has some unknown actors in the leads, it is more than a typical fast-moving B-picture, because the psychological relationships are very attentively elaborated and the actors are directed likewise. Besides, you will find some interesting symbolisms like a rail fork indicating the difficulties of a man in finding a suitable way of life. The action scenes are enormously vivid for a picture of 1930 - a year in which some (especially MGMs) pictures still were much related to the silent era and had a very boring and static camerawork and editing.
The lighting sometimes even reminds me of later films noirs. And Wellman is even able to direct the lead running on the wagon roofs as if he was doing his private little dance of hope and fear. Wellman only shows the man running, perhaps dancing, and slowly departing from the spectator (and his girl), becoming smaller and smaller. He fears that there won't be a reunion, but there is hope, little as it may be. Wellmans best idea was not to over-accentuate this by a cut and/or close-up. But with this minimalistic and naturalistic composition, he gets the maximum of emotion, because WE are the girl and we feel what she feels. A wonderful scene in a wonderful picture with Mary Astor in an almost leading role and James Cagney and Joan Blondell in supporting parts. Five stars!

Although Barbara Stanwyck is one of the best actresses ever, "The Purchase Price" (1932) is clearly not one of her best films. But Wellman manages quite well to get along with a mediocre script and even gets a remarkable performance by the eternal leading ladies' co-star George Brent. A nightclub singer (Stanwyck) has to flea from gangsters and therefore is glad to hear that her costumer has accepted a farmer's marriage advertisement, sending Stanwyck's photograph instead. Stanwyck accepts to be married to the farmer (Brent) and has to shift from Champaign to milk and from night life to getting up at daybreak... The storyline being somehow silly and erratic, Wellman's film is anything but coherent. But seen as a collection of single scenes, most of them are funny, vivid, well acted, witty, highly emotional and dynamic. It is worth watching how the nightclub girl and the farmer get along with each other and developing something similar to an alliance... Four stars!

Unfortunately, I would rate "Frisco Jenny" (1933) only three stars. It suffers from the same disease as "The Purchase Price": In these two pictures, Wellman is very good in giving attention to single scenes, but neglects the film as a whole, i.e. its coherence. This leads to a greater disadvantage in "Frisco Jenny". While it is clear that the outline of "The Purchase Price" is silly, "Frisco Jenny" wants to turn into a drama in the last twenty minutes, which totally fails. Jenny (Ruth Chatterton) is a typical pre-code-character and Wellman is good at providing a deep insight into a San Francisco brothel just by little hints portraying the daily work of the whores. They swallow oil not to be too disgusted (nice symbolism, because oil won't let any other ... [let's call it liquid] pass through and mix), they mark those who are already ripped off by a piece of chalk, they give their customers the keys for their rooms, but never forget to make them drunk enough to get it back in time... It is to be honored that Wellman shows these things with neither sensationalism nor bigotry, but with remarkable implicitness. Thus it appears to be a job as any other and the whores are portrayed just as ordinary people. Jenny becomes their boss after her father's death, but soon she has to leave the brothel and the film follows her "career" for 25 years. Unfortunately, Chatterton is not Stanwyck and her "scandalous" behavior is always a little too one-dimensional and obvious. Therefore the first third of the movie is its best part and it becomes weaker when the plot turns away from the group of whores and concentrates on Jenny. During these 25 years, Jenny/Chatterton never seems to get older, and finally, her decline and atonement is far too abrupt to be convincing. The story of her illegitimate son who becomes a public prosecutor and seeks the death penalty for Jenny (not knowing her being his own mother) is pure cliché and all but credible. This makes me rate it three stars, although it deserved five for the first and four for the second act.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1d17f3c) out of 5 stars Not So Forbidden April 12 2009
By G.I Gurdjieff - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Having read the five previously posted reviews,I'm not sure there is much I can add of a concrete nature. I actually liked all of the inclusions to this set with the exception of Other Men's Women. From my perspective this was a pretty lame film. Mary Astor was truly under utilized as the wanting to commit adultery wife. Grant Withers? Having seen this film I now truly understand why he will forever go down in film history as Loretta Young's annulled first husband as he wasn't much of an actor. The movie has a thin plot and probably shouldn't have been included in this set.The only aspect of this film which I found interesting were small parts played by Jimmy Cagney and Joan Blondell.
The other offerings were substantially more interesting. Frisco Jenny and Midnight Mary were my favorites and worthy of the 'forbidden' tag. Ruth Chatterton redeemed herself in my eyes as Frisco Jenny. I was surprised that she was a much better actress than I originally thought. As for Loretta Young's Midnight Mary, it wasn't hard to understand why audiences loved her. She was absolutely radiant. It was a delight to see her shine in a somewhat atypical part. While neither film had a unique plot as they appeared to be reworkings of other films, they were both a lot of fun. This set would be worthwhile to fans of either actress.
Wild Boys of the Road and Heroes for Sale were only nominally 'forbidden' because they dealt frankly with social problems (drug addiction and economic depression).However, these two selections were good movies and I had no problem getting into either one.
The last entry The Purchase Price gets a thumbs up from me and a thumbs down from my husband. My husband thought it was stupid, stupid, stupid. I liked it a lot. The plot wasn't heavy.....a mail order bride with some extra baggage finds lust on the farm. However, the performance turned in by Barbara Stanwyk foreshadows some of her later performances ala The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire. After seeing this movie it was little wonder to me why her career took off. She managed to run away with a small and seemingly insignificant little movie.
The bonus material/documentaries on William Wellman were informative and laid an ample foundation for what became his signature style. The cartoons, shorts, and trailers were fun.
My only concern with this package was why it was peddled as Forbidden Hollywood III. It didn't seem appropriate given that it was an all Wellman package and some of those films had to be nudged into that category. It would have been better packaged as the William Wellman Collection. I can come up with a lot of films which have yet to hit dvd that would much better exemplify this series and not garner mixed reviews in this respect. However, as an old movie lover I am happy to have this set in my collection.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2023108) out of 5 stars (so far) only a Frisco Jenny review. June 10 2011
By Robert Beveridge - Published on
Format: DVD
Frisco Jenny (William A. Wellman, 1932)

Frisco Jenny is another one of those pre-code films that's been rediscovered under false pretenses; while it's pre-code (though made after the Hays Code was adopted, it was released before enforcement began), there's not really much about it that the Hays Commission would have found all that objectionable. After all, Jenny's place is about as much an actual whorehouse as is the Folies Bergere. It's the rare pre-code film I've seen recently, whether it actually carries the "pre-code" tag for the associations we give it today or not, that hasn't been worth watching. Frisco Jenny may be tame, but that doesn't mean it's not fun.

Jenny (Dodsworth's Ruth Chatterton) is about to elope with her piano-player boyfriend, over the strenuous objections of her father, when the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 strikes, leaving her an orphan with a missing fiance. She gives birth to a child, and given her situation, puts him up for adoption. After one unsuccessful attempt to get him back and flee the country, she throws herself into her work--as the owner and manager of a bawdy house, the scourge of the Prohibition era. Jenny's son grows up and becomes a crusading DA who makes it his life's work to shut the bawdy houses down (and while Ruth Chatterton was one of the definitions of "sex bomb" in the thirties, it does somewhat strain credulity that she wears no age make-up at all, to the point where her son looks as old as she does in the final scenes [Donald Cook was nine years younger than Chatterton]). Needless to say, he turns his attention to Frisco Jenny and her joint in short order, and only two people in the world, Jenny herself and her old-school politician pal, Steve Dutton (Notorious' Louis Calhern), know why she might just let him win the battle.

This is another of those pieces of Wild Bill-iana that doesn't quite hold up as they years pass. Wellman was notoriously misanthropic, at least behind the camera (Jon Hopwood's bio of Wellman notes that Wellman "hated male actors due to their narcissism, yet preferred to work with them because he despised the preparation that actresses had to go through with their make-up and hairdressing before each scene."), and that comes out in a lot of his early films. (Stay tuned for a coming-soon review of possibly the most transparent of these, Safe in Hell!) In fact, one wonders idly whether Wellman had anything to do with the way the movie ends, but that would be a spoiler. In any case, this is one of those cases where it comes out less by using his female actors as little more than stare material for the he-men, but as outright ugliness. Putting aside the unspoken idea that it was Jenny's unwed-mother-dom that put her in the position of having to become a prostitute, which she is before opening her own place (and despite the fact that the only thing that stopped her from getting married was, you know, a natural disaster), once she actually makes something of herself--and the only women capable of doing that in this movie are prostitutes or former prostitutes--the amount of abuse heaped on Jenny by pretty much everyone else in the cast save Steve, including her friends and underlings, is epic. (In fact, while I will try to keep this as unspoily as possible, the final major arc of the story only occurs because one of her--male--underlings refuses to follow orders, because he thinks he knows better than she does. After all, he's a man, and women can't be counted on to be rational.) It's all rather offensive, really, in that "we're being unconsciously prejudiced" way that, in retrospect, comes off even worse than the "hey, let's assume women have no brains because we want to have sex with them!" attitude so prevalent in a number of other Wellman flicks.

Still, for all that the film does have its redeeming qualities. One of them, perhaps the most important, is that Ruth Chatterton was just as hard-headed as was Wellman, bless her heart, and she refused to play this role with even a shade of the weeping willow about her; Jenny is strong, self-assured, and confident, even when Wellman's constructs are heaping the garbage that will eventually cause her downfall. Despite being known as a sex kitten rather than as a serious actress, Chatterton, like a number of other bombshells of the era (Lillian Gish is an obvious example), really did have some chops, and she brings them all to bear here. If anything, she's good enough that some of the cast can't stand up to her. No worries about Louis Calhern, of course, but some of the less experienced actors here seem to wither under the force of Chatterton's personality. Ironically, one of those is Donald Cook, one of Wellman's go-to he-men, who'd worked in such high-profile gangster flicks as The Public Enemy and Smart Money. Much has been said of Wellman's camerawork in the climactic trial scene, and that's all well and good, but it wouldn't be what it is without the interesting dynamic between Chatterton's character and Cook's--or is it between Chatterton and Cook, both of whom were probably frustrated to the point of tears by that time with Wellman's fabled bullying of actors?

Much to think about with this one, if you choose to go that route. If you don't, it's still an enjoyable hour-and-change (the film runs just seventy-three minutes) with some fabulous acting. ** 1/2