Pre-code Hollywood - the William Wellman collection
Douglas M | 01/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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 Barthemless 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. Bartheless 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!"
Another great entry in the Forbidden Hollywood series
calvinnme | 01/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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. BONUS FEATURES: 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
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. BONUS FEATURE: 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. BONUS FEATURES:
Classic Cartoons: 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. BONUS FEATURES: Commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta Shorts: 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."
Not So Forbidden
gail powers | Harbor Country, Mi,N. Naples, FL, Chicago area | 04/12/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Moral ambivalence such as in Other Men's Women.
JOHN GODFREY | Milwaukee ,WI USA | 05/03/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The title may be misleading. They often are. Only one woman. Only one man. Before Hollywood starting enforcing the code it seems that movies were more real. Not reality. Nobody went to the movies for that. We all know that bad things happen to good people & that bad behavior doesn't always get punished. Justice doesn't always win. In Other Men's Women there are not really any bad people. But life happens. Bill (Grant Withers) & Jack (Regis Toomey) are best freinds & railroad men working together. Jack is a bit of a bounder & likes his freedom. He strings along women such as Marie (Joan Blondell). She's a tramp when Jack is not around & thinks Jack will marry her. Not. Bill, on the other hand is happily married to Lily (Mary Widsor). They have a nice home & are very domestic. Bill encourages Jack to come home with him & meet the missus. He does, likes it & stays for a while, which is fine with Bill. The inevitable happens & Jack & Lily fall in love. They steal moments but it is made clear they don't have sex, just kissing, but they are in love. It takes a while but thick Bill figures it out & assumes the worst. The best friends fight. It breaks out while they are flying down the tracks & they miss a red signal, the worse thing an engineer can do. There is a bad crash & Bill is blinded. Meanwhile, the river is rising & a flood is expected. Lily is taking care of Bill & of course he & Jack are estranged. The flooding has threatened a major train trestle. Jack, still racked with guilt, has a hare-brained scheme to test the bridge with a full load. This is vetoed by the trainmaster. Bill, although blind has been hanging around the round-house with the other railroad men. He gets wind of Jack's plan. Blind, he makes his way to the loaded locomotive in a driving rainstorm drives it to the right spot on the bridge. The trainmaster was right, it was a stupid idea. The bridge & entire train crash into the raging river below killing Bill. There are a lot of train scenes but never did I once see anyone shovel any coal into these steam locomotives. They just jumped in away they went. There is a lot of documentary scenes of trains & train yards from the 20's. Lots of little iconic touches from director William Wellman that I'm just learning about. In the end it becomes apparent that the widow Lily is going to stick around & will be seeing Jack. James Cagney dances through in a minor role to liven things up. Good, typical early 30's fare. Another lesser movie in this set is Frisco Jenny. It seems in Hollywood, hookers have alwasy been wildly popular. Before & after code enforcement. They are alway pretty, entertaining & glamorous. If only it were really so. Ruth Chatterton is Jenny working in a saloon for a cruel boss. The big one hits, her boss is killed & it's beginning to sound like Baby-Face. But her boyfriend, is also killed in the quake leaving her with a child. Brushes with the law cause her to give up her son to a rich, childless couple. The years pass & she becomes prominent in certain social circles. She knows the crooked politicians, movers, shakers & just plain crooks. She follows her son's life from afar as he rises as a force for good in the attorney general's office. There's a sad ending. Her character is much more likeable that Barbara Stanwyke's in Baby-face. This one is only average but this package-deal has some better movies in it. Much better is Midnight Mary. Loretta Young gets the full MGM treatment in this one. She plays good girl, bad girl, good girl throughout the movie.As usual, she is irresistable to her two boyfriends A hood & an attorney played by Richard Barthelmess & Franchot Tome respectively. She palys a wide range going from a nine year old to an adult. She is a victim of the depression & has to make her way. Not the frugal studio Warner Brothers but more lavish expensive MGM made this one & may have helped her to stardom. An excellent commentary on Midnight Mary is included. Another smaller role for Ms Young is the excellent Heroes For Sale, critiqued in a separate review in vhs format. Thank-you"
Vol. 3 as impressive as the first two
Dan Day | South Bend, IN | 05/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"TCM's Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 3 is a must-have for film buffs and anyone who loves 1930's cinema. Those who own the first two volumes will certainly want to purchase this one. This volume focuses on director William Wellman, one of the most underrated filmmakers of classic Hollywood. Wellman was know for making fast-moving, hard-hitting films, and this set represents him well. The set includes the following movies:
Other Men's Women (with Mary Astor, James Cagney and Joan Blondell) The Purchase Price (with Barbara Stanwyck) Frisco Jenny (with Ruth Chattterton) Midnight Mary (with Loretta Young) Heroes for Sale (with Richard Barthelmess and Loretta Young) Wild Boys Of The Road (with Frankie Darro)
The set also includes two documentaries on William Wellman which are informative and a must for anyone with an interest in classic Hollywood. As usual, TCM and Warners has put together another excellent DVD set with extras such as trailers, commentaries, 30's era cartoons, etc. The quality of all films is first rate, as to be expected form a Warner DVD. Hopefully there will be more volumes in this series."