260 of 285 people found the following review helpful
While the interest in pre-code (June 1934) American talkies may never have been greater than currently, it should not be assumed that the films are good simply because they deal with subjects which became off limits after the code was upheld. This package is a case in point. We have 6 entries from Paramount Studios and they vary from very good to very bad. Let's start with the bad.
"Search for Beauty", released in 1934, is a terrible film. The pre-code elements are some nudity and a screenplay based on exploitation using sex as the bait. This would be of interest if the context in which they were presented had any merit but this must be one of the worst films ever. The garrulous screenplay concerns the sex-ploitation of athletic specimens, fronts for the get rich schemes of a trio of ex-cons. A teenage Ida Lupino, looking like a kewpie doll, and Buster Crabbe, an Olympic swimmer, star as the dupes, first via a health magazine and subsequently a health farm. The screenplay is dreadful, the production values ordinary, the editing poor and the cynicism behind the plot mind blowing. The film promoted a real life "Search for Beauty" and Ann Sheridan, who made her debut in this film and can be glimpsed as the winner from Texas, confirmed later in interviews that the whole thing was as appalling as it seems on the screen.
"Merrily We Go To Hell", released in 1932, is a marital drama whereby alcoholic writer Fredric March marries heiress Sylvia Sidney. When she is unable to reform him, she joins him in his extra curricular activities until she finds she is pregnant. It is a weak film with too much exposition. While the stars do a good job, the director, Dorothy Arzner, tries for unsubtle camera tricks which are corny. Sidney was a powerful emotional actress but the material undermines her good performance.
Tallulah Bankhead, a stage star probably most famous for her colourful personal life, stars in the earliest film in the set, a melodrama released in 1931 called "The Cheat". The film has a hoary and predictable plot whereby Bankhead, as a spoilt and careless wife incurs gambling debts, imbezzles the milk fund then shoots Irving Pichel when he tries "to have his way with her", with a kinky twist. The film is stagebound as directed by George Abbott and Bankhead poses and wrings her hands as for the stage. The pre-code aspect of the film is the oriental mischief that Pichel creates. This probably makes the film more interesting today than it was in 1931, particularly as it was a remake of an earlier silent film. Of all the films, this is the one which is the most old fashioned in plot, acting and direction.
"Murder at the Vanities", released in 1934, is a dumb backstage whodunnit set around the famous shows of Earl Carroll, a rival to producers Ziegfield and George White of musical reviews on Broadway. The film is boring with a dull plot and the notable absence of the zing of the equivalent Warner Brother's offerings. Mitchell Leisen, an ex costume designer, directed the film so not surprisingly, the art direction is excellent. The pre-code aspects relate in particular to the near nude costuming in the musical numbers, which include a bizarre song about the use of marijuana. Elsewhere, there are a few pleasant songs including "Cocktails for Two" but Kitty Carlisle and Frederick Brisson are not dynamic performers although he tries hard, grinning at every opportunity but coming over as pure ham.
A star whose work is rarely seen is the delightful Nancy Carroll, a pert girl who bridged the coming of sound but whose career was thrown away when Paramount consistently handed her crummy roles and did not renew her contract in 1933, reportedly due to her temperament for complaining about the poor parts. "Hot Saturday", a 1932 release, is ample proof that a major talent was trashed. The film is the beguiling tale of a small town girl who loses her job and reputation for supposedly staying too long alone at the home of playboy Cary Grant. The film is beautifully directed by William Seiter and all the actors give good performances particularly Jane Darwell, cast unusually as a harridan wife. The pre-code aspects of the script are the implications of the behaviour of "wild youth" and pre-marital sex. It is a neat film. By the way, that's Nancy Carroll on the cover of the box in a provocative scene with Randolph Scott.
In 1933, Paramount starred the enchanting Claudette Colbert in "Torch Singer". Colbert was steadily moving to the top of the heap at this time and the film is a stunning showcase. She plays an unwed mother who becomes a notorious night club singer after giving up her child. By accident, she also becomes "Aunt Jenny", a radio personality hosting a maudlin children's program and thereby finds her child and the father for a happy ending. If the plot sounds improbable, that does not account for the breadth and depth of Colbert's performance. She runs the gamut from despair to happiness and never once strikes a false note. There is some brittle humour too. The supporting cast are outstanding, performers such as Charles Grapewin as the radio sponsor with a wonderful scene when he tells off his wife, Ricardo Cortez as the nightclub promoter and David Manners as the boyfriend who left her pregnant. Also Colbert is superbly dressed by Travis Banton, her favourite designer and what a figure she had. Wow! If this is not enough, then you will be blown away by Colbert's singing. Using her own mezzo and her superior acting abilities, she sells all the songs magnificently. This is a quality film in every way.
The prints of the films are very good, in the case of "Hot Saturday", like new. The only extras are a short documentary about the introduction of the code and a small pocket copy of the code itself. The documentary consists of a lot of talk from regular contributors to commentaries on classic films and a few tantalising glimpses from some of the films. Naturally, the dissertation looks at the Paramount legacy and focuses on De Mille's "Sign of the Cross" which particularly offended the Catholics due to its religious subject. The documentary is concise but pales compared to the equivalent documentary on The Forbidden Hollywood Volume 2 Collection.
The release of these films is welcome to enthusiasts primarily because of their rarity. This does not mean, however, that they are good.
66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2009
I am not all that familiar with the other films in this package, but I can highly recommend Mitchell Leisen's MURDER AT THE VANITIES 1934 with Kitty Carlilse, Carl Brisson, Jack Oakie, Victor McLaglen, Gertrude Michael, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. This is a wonderful back-stage murder mystery with lavish musical numbers in the Busby-Berkeley style, with exciting visuals and some scantily dressed chorus girls. Songs include "Cocktails For Two", the outrageous "Marijuana" (in which blood, from a murder victim, drips down from the rafters onto the shoulders of one of the half naked chorus girls while they are all performing on stage), "Where Do They Come From, Where Do They Go?" and "Ebony Rhapsody". If you're a fan of 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Dames, Lady Of Burlesque, etc., you're going to love this rare gem, and now it's finally coming to DVD April 9th!
102 of 112 people found the following review helpful
Looking at what's available on DVD, you'd think that Universal did nothing more than crank out horror film after horror film during the early 1930's. In fact, they branched out from their typical western fare into other types of films from time to time. Probably the best known is Best Picture winner "All Quiet on the Western Front", but there was also the all-color musical "King of Jazz", "Broadway" and "Lonesome" directed by a bacteriologist, and a variety of precodes. Unfortunately, none of Universal's precodes are in this bunch. On the bright side, this is some of the best precode material from Paramount, which Universal happens to own. This time they even provide some extras. This is a great improvement over The Cecil B. DeMille Collection (Cleopatra/ The Crusades/ Four Frightened People/ Sign of the Cross/ Union Pacific) in which some of DeMille's more interesting precode Paramount films were dumped into a collection with no commentary, no context, nothing. The following description comes from the press release with a few extra comments of my own. These are never on TV and it's not like I've seen them all last week, but I have seen them and do recommend them.
The Cheat (1931, 74 min.) directed by George Abbott
(Actually a Paramount production)
A compulsive gambler (Tallulah Bankhead) will do anything to pay off her debt - including turning to a wealthy businessman behind her husband's back.
Merrily We Go to Hell directed by Dorothy Arzner (1932, 78 min.)
(Actually a Paramount production)
An abusive alcoholic (Fredric March) reunites with a woman from his past and drives his wife (Sylvia Sidney) to drastic measures. Look for Cary
Grant in a very minor role.
Hot Saturday (1932, 73 min.) directed by William Seitner
Scandal erupts after a young woman (Nancy Carroll) innocently spends the night with a notorious playboy (Cary Grant) and neglects to tell her fiance (Randolph Scott).
Torch Singer (1933, 71 min.) directed by Alexander Hall and George Somnes
After giving up her illegitimate child for adoption, a notorious nightclub singer (Claudette Colbert) attempts to find her daughter through a children's radio show. The father is played by David Manners, who also shows up in several of the Universal horror films of the early 30's. Strong support comes from Ricardo Cortez.
Murder at the Vanities directed by Mitchell Leisen(1934, 89 min.)
While musical revue "The Vanities" captivates an audience on its opening night, a murder investigation takes place backstage. Victor McLaglin plays the policeman trying to solve the murder, which actually isn't that interesting. What is interesting are the bizarre musical numbers in "The Vanities" including an ode to mar ij uana.
Search for Beauty (1934, 78 min.) directed by Erle Kenton
Olympic swimming champions (Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino) are tricked into endorsing a racy magazine - and much worse. Robert Armstrong and veteran character actor James Gleason play the tricksters.
Forbidden Film: The Production Code Era (Disc 1)
Includes Reproduction of the Original "Production Code" Document
Universal did actually make some interesting precodes of their own. I watched one just last week - "Night World" with Boris Karloff as the owner of a nightclub and Mae Clark as a chorus girl. Maybe Universal will put out another volume of precodes and include some of their own works next time. In the meantime, I can heartily recommend this set.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2009
Received Pre-Code Hollywood collection Friday 4/10/09. Watched The Cheat & Merrily We Go To Hell Friday night and Hot Saturday plus Torch Singer tonight. They are in excellent visual and audio condition and over 75 years old. Fascinating stories with excellent acting by all the female leads --Tallulah Bankhead, Sylvia Sidney, Claudette Colbert and Nancy Carroll. What gorgeous women! Lovely early 30s background music, nifty cars, fabulous clothes, great stories that move fast - - little more than an hour each. WHAT IS THERE NOT TO LIKE ABOUT THIS COLLECTION OF PRE-CODE MOVIES???? Can't wait to see the other two films tomorrow night. Thank you Universal for QUALITY. No need to have all the extras when you can have such good films of this vintage. Very nice packaging too. PLEASE PLEASE bring more of your pre-code Paramount films to DVD. Any chance of 1931 movie 24 Hours with Miriam Hopkins?? Thomas C. Kelly
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2011
Some other reviewers seem to not be that familiar with early sound film. This is a great collection of Pre-Code Hollywood movies. As with all early-30s films, nothing is perfect, but that's because everything was being tried for the first time. But the daring and honesty evidenced in these films is worth it to even a viewer unfamiliar with the narrative style of the period. Murder at the Vanities is, on one hand, a simplified version of a Busby Berkeley picture without the benefit of his genius--but on the other hand, it's a clever "locked-room" mystery set in real time with plenty of laughs and a host of great forgotten character actors. And unlike Berkeley's bevy of geometric beauties, the dancers here aren't all-white. There's also a rather hilarious song about marijuana that is still a little shocking. Merrily We Go to Hell deals with alcoholism in an honest way, but also deals with a complicated and realistic marriage with honesty and compassion--and none of the simplistic gender-role nonsense Hollywood would become known for a few years later. Hot Saturday is almost an allegory for the effect of the Code on women and sexuality in American society. And, as in Torch Singer, it features another strong Pre-Code female lead who knows what she wants out of life and is willing to fight for it. The Cheat borders on the sort of Eastern-themed horror stuff going on in the period, and its frank treatment of sexuality and commerce is perfect for a Depression-era reading of social concerns. All of these movies are fun and eye-opening, and fan of classical Hollywood cinema may find themselves both shocked and pleased to see what went on in films prior to '34. Highly recommended!
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2009
At last, Murder at the Vanities is being released. I saw this film years and years and years ago at a film festival with my mother and we fell in love with it becuase it's simply so outrageous and outrageously bad in some spots (the "Marijuana" number is especially entertaining).
This has been on the top of my want list for years, desperately hoping someone would release it. Now that it's coming out, I think I know what my mother's getting for Mother's Day this year.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2010
This Collection combines six films from the Paramount Studios, now owned by Universal. As bonus material, you will get a printed copy of the "production code", strictly enforced in the summer of 1934 and regulating what may be presented oh screen and, more important, what may be not - with a maximum of bigotry. For this reason, films which are made in the pre code era must not necessarily be scandalous or (s)expolitative. Besides, Paramount Pictures at that time always had a maximum of elegance and production values. The following may be said to the six films:
"Merrily We Go To Hell" (1932) is the best move of the collection, starring an outstanding Fredric March and a touching Sylvia Sidney, trying to stick to her husband while she belongs to the upper class and he is "only" a reporter, trying to have his breakthrough as a playwright. Besides, he is an alcoholic, and the film manages to take this seriously and does not show the alcoholic as comic relief, as in most films of the period. Billy Wilder always claimed to have made the first serious film about an alcoholic ("The Lost Weekend", 1945) - he is wrong. Besides, it is interesting that this film is directed by a woman, Dorothy Arzner, who was the first well-known female director (before Ida Lupino). When Sidney's last words "my baby" try to strengthen and to save her husband, this may also be a statement that women may well be stronger than men who sometimes would be helpless babies without their wives or girlfriends or mothers.
Sex sells: "Search For Beauty" (1934) hat lots of witty lines and is quite entertaining, but a bit skin deep, and Ida Lupino has not yet found her ideal casting in 1934: Two Olympic gold medal winners (Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino) shall be misused to launch a "men's magazine" and to exploit the upcoming fitness movement. When they establish a beauty farm and training camp, assisted by athletic young men and women as trainers chosen through international beauty contests, the film takes the opportunity to show lots of beautiful bodies in lavishly staged and photographed poses. At last, we have equality of sex in these scenes, for they present not only - as most other films - the female, but also the athletic male body.
This may not be said for "Murder At The Vanities" (1934), which presents a staged show with "the most beautiful girls in the world" (shown as nude as possible), in combination with a murderous intrigue backstage. The mixture works quite well, but one shouldn't be too feminist to enjoy it... Unfortunately, the cast does not contain a single great star and the stronger parts are attributed to the comic sidekicks than to the leads.
But what a great star Tallulah Bankhead is, may be seen in "The Cheat" (1931) - which is a typical Paramount upper class drama and has the same combination of lavish production values, exotism and perversity as a Paramount Marlene Dietrich vehicle by Josef von Sternberg (a collector of oriental art treats Bankhead the same as his Asian "slaves" and even brands her as his statues in order to show she's his possession). Tallulah Bankhead is every inch a diva with great (but never exaggerated) passion and gesture, whom one may never imagine as a working girl. In doing so, she reminds a little of the later Bette Davis. Although you man really not imagine why people living in such extravagant places may have monetary problems (couldn't they sell some of their paintings, furniture and wardrobe???), it is a good and strong drama, and it's especially well acted by Bankhead. Therefore, I would consider it to be one of the best pictures of the collection.
This is also true for "Torch Singer" (1933), starring a strong and touching Claudette Colbert and dramatizing the subject of unwed motherhood (in a way in which it should become impossible unless Ida Lupino got along with it in 1949 - even under the production code). When she manages to go up from the dump to high-class nightclub life, the film becomes his typical Paramount polishing, but it is nevertheless an effective tearjerker. The end comes a little too quick and is a little too good to be true, but I liked it for it is more actual than ever that children need both mother and father.
Finally, "Hot Saturday" (1932) gives us the opportunity to watch Cary Grant in maybe his first typical Cary Grant leading role as notorious playboy Romer Sheffield. Although the story has a certain banality and Romer naturally gets the leading girl named Ruth (Nancy Carroll) after a hot Saturday, is has a special quality not to be overlooked. Of course, at the beginning one does not get the point why Ruth does not only fall in love to Romer, but really loves him (and why Romer really loves Ruth and wants to keep her forever). But the interesting point in the story is that Ruth is in the center of the plot, surrounded by a number of men who are all trying to tell her what and who is good for her. Being Romer the only person who does nothing of the same, it is plausible that Ruth and Romer belong to each other. This reminded me of a Sirkian attitude, e.g. shown in "All That Heaven Allows" (1954), although "Hot Saturday" is more skin deep - and funnier.
I would rate "Merrily We Go To Hell", "Torch Singer" and "The Cheat" five stars and the other three films four stars.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2009
Universal owns a vast catalog of Pre-Code movies, many of which the studio purchased in the 1970s from Paramount; I hope this boxset collection is the first of many. Offering six movies on three DVDs, the set doesn't feature the most outrageous or even the most memorable of Pre-Code Hollywood, but it's a start. Maybe if enough of us buy a copy Universal will take notice and continue releasing more...
Image-wise the movies look relatively good. Grain is as always evident, but each of these movies is over seventy years old. There are no commentaries or special features, which is a shame. It appears to my untrained eye that these films have been somewhat restored; there's none of that subrate quality one will find on low-tier label releases (I'm looking at YOU, Alpha Video!). For some odd reason the set comes with a pamphlet reprinting the Production Code, the document which neutered the industry. Are we supposed to burn it in rage?
The Cheat (1931): Tallulah Bankhead plays a troublesome wife with dreams of glamorous living. Frustrated with her husband's interminable promise that he's soon to make a windfall, she gets mixed up with a globetrotting millionaire who takes a shine to her. Pretty soon it's "Indecent Proposal" six decades early; the globetrotter offers Tallulah money but it's obvious what he expects in return. A hammy melodrama, what most impressed me about The Cheat were the sets, which combine `30s art deco with a Hollywood idea of "oriental." There's nothing particularly "Pre-Code" here. Other than the expectation placed upon Tallulah in return for the money, nothing really happens - except for an unexpected scene in which someone gets branded!
Merrily We Go To Hell (1932): Fredric March plays an upcoming playwright with one heck of a drinking problem. The movie attempts to be a social relevance type of thing, warning of the dangers of alcoholism, yet it can't help but revel in the glamour of high-society partying, complete with tuxedoed drinkers and opulent art deco surroundings. If anything the movie made me WANT to drink. March is good in the role. Sometimes he comes off as too stiff but here he gets into the role, he's fluid with it. In a drunken blur he meets a girl, courts her, and the two get married. Soon after March finds success, but he also runs into an old flame. Blossom rekindles despite his marriage - Pre-Code material for sure, as March and his wife develop an open relationship. The whole thing comes off like some "Ice Storm" sort of 1970s free love/open couples affair, only with booze instead of pot. And the factor which saves their relationship is a depressing event which itself wouldn't be allowed in a Hollywood film, Post-Code.
Hot Saturday (1932): No matter how long I kept watching this movie, it just wouldn't end. There are a bujillion Pre-Code movies that could've been included here instead of this one. But this is what we've been handed: a tedious movie only brightened by Cary Grant's small role. A gaggle of twentysomethings plan a huge weekend party, complete with bootleg booze. Grant plays the dapper gadabout who hosts the party. Our heroine swoons for him, spends most of the night mooning over the lake with him - because he's just a nice guy after all. But next day the lie gets out via her jilted beau that our girl is a floozy. Her image is bashed by an outraged town and her parents threaten to kick her out. Will she find redemption? Pre-Code material: two girls fight over a pair of underwear, with one of them actually pulling it off of the other.
Torch Singer (1933): Oh, how I adore this movie. And what's funny is I'm so completely outside its target audience. For this is a weepy, soapy, maudlin melodrama, one designed and aimed like a rocket for the hearts of a female audience. It's about a single mother forced to give up her child - and who, through various soap-operatic events, goes on to become a torch singer, a children's radio show host, and finally an obsessed seeker of her abandoned child. And why do I adore this movie? Two words: Claudette Colbert. Ricardo Cortez, her co-star in this, was quoted in Lawrence Quirk's 1985 Claudette bio as saying that the Torch Singer was only good because Claudette "willed it." A true and knowing statement; if you've ever wanted to witness a star carrying a picture on her back, then this is it. I'm positive I wouldn't even like this movie if it wasn't for Claudette. But yet I've watched it three times already. Claudette shows off her entire range here: from comedy to pathos. In her "torch singer" faze she vamps it up with delight, singing in key and spinning out one-liners with aplomb. Then when she moves into her "children's radio show host" she's utterly in the moment; there's a scene where you can witness the realization cross her face - that as she delivers this dialog over the airwaves, her abandoned daughter might be somewhere out there, listening. It's a heartbreaking moment. She even gets to play a "down and out" angle; convinced she'll never find her daughter, Claudette escapes to a bar where she drinks herself into a mascara-streaked stupor, a mound of cigarette butts piled beside her lolling head. My definite favorite movie of the collection. And possibly the most Pre-Code movie here, even though it doesn't show anything naughty. Yet Claudette plays an unwed mother and while in her "torch singer" incarnation she acquires a definite "reputation" - two factors at least which would be verboten in Hollywood just a year later. And finally, I find myself humming Claudette's theme song "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Love" at the oddest times.
Murder at the Vanities (1934): Mitchell Liesen's first sole credit as director; previous to this he'd directed (without credit) some of DeMille's 1932 "The Sign of the Cross" and had co-directed the forgotten Claudette Colbert/Fredric March 1933 film "Tonight Is Ours." A longtime DeMille assistant with a thorough experience in set and costume design, Liesen handles his first assignment with the assured skill of an old pro. The only problem, for me at least, is that the movie's just not very good. For one, it's a musical, and I've never liked musicals. Two, the plot just never gets moving, far as I'm concerned. It's all about a murder which occurs backstage during a musical revue; Victor McLaglen, of all people, plays the inspector who just happens to be in the audience and so investigates the crime. What makes the movie Pre-Code is the flesh-revealing costumes the chorines wear. In the midst of opulent and ornate musical numbers, attractive young women will materialize from the scenery in the skimpiest of costumes. In one sequence a group of them emerge from colossal flowers, topless, covering their breasts with their hands. None of this would be allowed once the Code was enforced. To add gravy there's another number all about marijuana. But despite all the topless, marijuana-praising wackiness there's something about the movie that just bores me. I intend to rewatch it someday soon to see if my feelings for it have improved.
Search for Beauty (1934): A movie calculated to exploit all those elements we seek in Pre-Code cinema. Nudity, unsavory characters, wanton attitudes: all are here in this grubby little gem. My man Larry "Buster" Crabbe appears in his first starring role, a year out from the first "Flash Gordon" serial and with his natural brown hair. We also get, in a marvelously hammy role, Robert Armstrong - "King Kong's" Carl Denham himself. The plot revolves around Armstrong's plan to cater to the burgeoning "raincoat" crowd by publishing a fitness magazine, one which will become more titilating with each issue. In other words, a respectable skin rag. Crabbe's hired on as an Olympic athlete who will lend the magazine some respectability. Only, he soon gets wind of the publisher's exploitative plans and does his best to prevent the ruining of his image. But yes, it's a comedy film - one which peeks into a men's locker room and focuses on alluring women in the midst of form-revealing stretches and workouts. But it's not a particularly funny or memorable comedy, and seems to exist only to exploit those very same elements which its sordid main characters seek to exploit in their magazine.
All in all, six forgotten films from the era in which Hollywood knew no boundaries. For myself I only enjoyed one of these movies enough to watch it multiple times - Torch Singer, of course. But there is a plethora of unreleased Pre-Code material in Universal's vaults. So let's hope they release another Pre-Code boxset - one with a better selection of films.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2009
The DVD transfer is very good considering the age of these films and there has been an obvious restoration done on the films. This is a very watchable package of films.
This is a special note about Toby Wing, a 30's and WW2 pinup queen. For most of her career, Toby was an extra with walk-on non-speaking parts. In this collection, we see her with 3 speaking roles and in "Search for Beauty" she has 5th billing. I make note of her because of the special magic she generated on screen when smiling for the camera.
THE CHEAT: **** This is a remake of the 1916 DeMille film of the same name concerning interracial affairs. Tallulah Bankhead heads the cast as a gambling-addicted wife to a hard-working businessman (Harvey Stephens). She gets deeper and deeper into trouble as she makes one mistake after another trying to recover her initial losses.
At the same time, she is being pursued by a wealthy Oriental, Hardy Livingstone (Irving Pichel) who socializes in her circle. In an attempt to add Miss Bankhead to his "collection" of women, Livingstone volunteers money to cover her debts with both characters understanding that the price will be adultery. At the last minute, Bankhead backs out, infuriating Livingstone who then brands her with a hot iron. From this point, the film gets even better. (I'm not giving it away). This one is well worth the viewing.
MERRILY WE GO TO HELL: ** Hollywood legend Fredric March is more or less wasted on this soapish pot boiler. He plays an alcoholic writer who marries the socialite daughter (Sylvia Sidney) of a wealthy financier (George Irving). This film could have been much better if the script had any originality or didn't have the normal turn-for-the-good ending. It does have the usual "pre-code" value system where adultery and free love seem to be on everybody's minds but fails to really build any tension or to generate sympathy for any of the characters. Look for Cary Grant in a bit part as Sylvia's party date after she decides to "go to Hell."
HOT SATURDAY NIGHT: ** The only attribute of this film which keeps me from dropping 1 star and telling you to forget it is the cast. Cary Grant and Randolph Scott play lead roles along with outstanding character actress, Jane Darwell (Oscar winner for "The Grapes of Wrath"). This is a flat soap opera with too much moralizing and too little of anything else. I suspect it was included because of the suave character portrayed by Grant which later became his trademark.
TORCH SINGER:**** Nobody could dominate a film like Claudette Colbert and she doesn't disappoint here. She goes from destitute single mother to cabaret singer to desperate mother looking for the daughter she gave up years ago. We get both the sarcastic whit that only Miss Colbert could deliver along with the sensitive vulnerable side of the character. This film is a fine ride thanks to Claudette. Sit back and watch one of America's great actresses bring a little magic to an otherwise slow film. Note: Toby Wing gets a few lines as one of the partiers in Miss Colbert's apartment..
MURDER AT THE VANITIES: **** Most pre-code fans will agree that costuming (or the lack thereof) is one of the significant traits of that group of films. Welcome to the Vanities where skimpy costuming (and in some cases VERY skimpy costuming) is the order for the day. Paramount did it's best to counter the Busby Berkeley musicals from Goldwyn and Warner Brothers that ruled the pre-code musical world, even borrowing Berkeley super extra, Toby Wing, for a speaking part. The Vanities show starts and somewhere in the middle a girl is found murdered high in the rigging. The stage manager (Jack Oakie) and a policeman (Victor McLaglen) search for clues and the murderer while the show progresses.
Carl Brisson plays the lead performer in the show but his part really fades compared to the music and those beautiful girls. His romance with Kitty Carlisle and the jealousy it creates is the center of the plot line but, hey, who cares. This is great pre-code fun.
As far as the musical is concerned, we get 2 highlights. 1 is Kitty Carlisle singing "Sweet Marijuana". She claims she didn't know what the stuff was, she just sang the lyrics. (right, Kitty, I'll buy that one!) The other highlight, "Ebony Rhapsody", is backed by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra featuring an all black chorus line. This is by far the best musical number of the show with great jazz rifts and rhythms and a highly energetic dance routine.
SEARCH FOR BEAUTY: *** This film, in some ways, could be considered a parody of itself and other pre-code entries. Our heroes, Buster Crabbe as an American swim champ and Ida Lupino as a British diving champ, are fooled into working for a rather unscrupulous group of con artists. The cover is a health magazine that Buster and Ida lend their names to and edit (supposedly) stories about staying healthy and exercising. Instead, the cons are really adding racy photos and spicy stories to the mag for pure sensationalism. "Circulation is the key," claims Robert Armstrong (King Kong) who heads up the con artists. This film is filled with pretty girls in sexy outfits, leering dirty old men, and pre-code sexual innuendo. As a serious piece of film....forget it...but "Search for Beauty" could be used to demonstrate any number of "pre-code" concepts and practices taken to the point of absurdity. I mean really, what is this collection about anyway!
Toby Wing gets 5th billing here and has one of her biggest roles in a movie. Her character is the one that can be talked into anything. Ah heck, I'll give this one 4 stars just for Toby. ****
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2009
Universal delivers a package of pre-code goodies similar to Warner's on-going Forbidden Hollywood series. Of course WB has upped the ante with their latest Volume 3 by included Warner Night at the Movies style extras such as cartoons and shorts where previous entries only had short featurettes about the individual movies. Universal only includes one bonus feature about the production code era. However Universal also included an interesting printed reproduction of the production code itself in a little envelope. The set includes 6 movies on 3 dual layer DVDs. All are fascinating at the very least for their vintage. Can't wait to finish watching all of them, and hope Universal will follow through with future releases in this series, hopefully with titles that Universal actually produced and maybe dig around and throw in some Oswald cartoons and short subjects while they're at it.