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TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume One (Waterloo Bridge (1931) / Baby Face / Red-Headed Woman)

4.5 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 1 (TCM Archives) (DVD)


Here are three films that couldn't and wouldn't have been made at any other time. Contrary to popular belief, the history of Hollywood permissiveness, what filmmakers could "get away with" on screen, is not a steadily rising graph from puritanical early days to the party-hearty present. In the early 1930s, a national mood of shock over the stock market crash and impatience with Prohibition licensed a relaxation of the movie industry's self-censorship policies. Sexuality--always a driving force in movie plots and characterizations, even when repressed--became a more explicit presence, with costuming that sometimes pushed the envelope for exposure of epidermis and dialogue that could be shockingly blunt.

Baby Face (1933) was made at Warner Bros., the golden-age studio with the grittiest style and the most street cred. The gutsy Barbara Stanwyck stars as a young woman from a factory town who hops a boxcar to the big city and sleeps her way to the top--a progress famously indexed by a camera ascending floor by floor outside a Gotham office building as she trades up, one corporate suitor after another. No other major-studio film was more explicit about sex as a tool and a commodity, yetBaby Face is curiously less sexy than any number of movies that weren't so outspoken about it. This TCM collection features both the theatrical-release version familiar for decades and a recently rediscovered preview version that is markedly superior, runs five minutes longer, and includes more sexual liaisons. It also happily lacks an absurd final scene that got tacked onto the release version to explain how the heroine learned to be content with a modest lifestyle.

Red-Headed Woman (1932) is arguably the raunchiest movie Jean Harlow made at MGM (though not as raunchy as her scenes in Howard Hughes' 1930 Hell's Angels). Unlike Stanwyck in Baby Face--a proletarian heroine grimly selling herself to beat capitalism and the patriarchy at their own game--Harlow's character brazenly relishes both the sex and the posh life it wins for her. The lion's share of this sardonic comedy, scripted by Anita Loos and an uncredited F. Scott Fitzgerald, focuses on Harlow's seduction of her married boss (Chester Morris) and the havoc she wreaks in his upper-crust world. Charles Boyer has a role (his first Hollywood credit) as a French chauffeur who knows how to give satisfaction, and the film's air of breezy ribaldry even allows the star a casual flash of bare breast.

The rarest item in the collection, the 1931 Universal version of Waterloo Bridge, has long been unseen because MGM bought the film in order to do a 1940 remake (starring Vivien Leigh) and locked the original away in the vault. Directed by James Whale the same year he did Frankenstein (1931), the picture charts the romance of a chorus-girl-turned-streetwalker (Mae Clarke) and a well-born young soldier (Kent Douglass) on brief furlough from the trenches during WWI. Apart from a zesty prelude in a London music hall and two scenes on the titular bridge, the film remains yoked to its talky theatrical source, a Robert E. Sherwood play flogging the hoary conceit that no fallen woman, however pure of heart, could be permitted to marry into a good family. Unlike the Hays Code-compliant remake, the film leaves no doubt how the heroine makes her living. --Richard T. Jameson

Special Features

  • Includes:
  • Waterloo Bridge (1931)
  • Baby Face (1933): theatrical version and rediscovered longer version
  • Red-Headed Woman (1932)
  • Introduction by Robert Osborne
  • Baby Face theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Henry Kolker
  • Directors: Alfred E. Green, Jack Conway, James Whale
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Turner Classic Movie
  • DVD Release Date: December 5, 2006
  • Run Time: 518 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000I2JDF8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,255 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume One (Waterloo Bridge (1931) / Baby Face / Red-Headed Woman)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Michael Click on October 13, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
There seems to be a great deal of pre-release confusion concerning what will actually be included on this upcoming set, and why. In the interest of sorting things out, I should first point out that although this is the first "Forbidden Hollywood" collection to be released by Warner Home Video on DVD, the franchise itself is not new. There were previously two "Forbidden Hollywood" boxed sets and a number of double features released on LaserDisc back in the 1990's. Additionally, quite a few "Forbidden Hollywood" titles were also offered on VHS cassette. From the git-go, "Forbidden Hollywood" titles were only culled from that cache of movies that premiered during the few short years after the introduction of "talkies" and the imposition of the Hays Production Code in 1934.

During this time frame, roughly 1929 to mid-1934, Hollywood studio product became increasingly concerned with subject matter that would later be condemned as taboo after the Code came into effect; these so-called "pre-Code talkies" were filled with characters who indulged in premarital sex, extramarital affairs, and even gay and lesbian liaisons. Films touched on hot-button topics such as rape, abortion, feminism, having children out-of-wedlock, drug abuse, and other social ills. And mind you, these things weren't just delicately hinted at in screenplays ... they frequently were shown on-screen and discussed quite frankly. After the Hays Code was adopted by the motion picture industry as a self-censorship tool, this group of films was deemed unacceptable for future distribution and exhibition without judicious editing to trim out now-objectionable material, and so they became, literally, "Forbidden Hollywood" product.
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The films of Pre-Code Hollywood (before 1934) have always held a special place in the history of Hollywood. The subjects were treated far more realistically than after the Code was imposed. This selection focuses on 3 films with 3 major central performances.

"Baby Face", starring a relentless Barbara Stanwyck, is a 1933 Warner Brothers film which traces the rise and rise of a tart. Stanwyck was quoted once as saying that the film was slated for her to give her glamour but that is the least of it. She is certainly dolled up but it is her tough realism that really makes the role as she leaves a trail of men in her path from poverty to riches. The early scenes in her father's speakeasy are particulary powerful. Look for a young John Wayne in the cast too. The DVD contains the recently discovered Director's Cut before the film was hacked by the Censors, so you really get to see what the fuss was about. It is interesting to observe how the cuts did not destroy the flow of the story. Part of the Censor's objections was that the heroine did not get her come-uppance so the tacked on ending in the cut version assures us that she ends up where she started, which was in fact ambiguous in the original version.

"Red Headed Woman" is probably Jean Harlow's toughest role, playing like Stanwyck a heartless tart who climbs her way to the top. Other actresses on the MGM payroll did not want the unsympathetic role but Harlow, with hair dyed from the trademark platinum blonde, has the requisite humour to put it over. Parts of the film are very funny with Una Merkel entertaining as Harlow's sidekick. The ending is hilarious with no contrived retribution for our heroine. The film really helped put Harlow on top and type cast her in the public's mind even when MGM later softened her image.
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For many fans of Pre-Code cinema, the only options to watching the movies we cherish has been to fastiduously comb through television listings, spend outrageous sums of money on limited release VHS versions or pray that your particular favorite is released with a Signature Collection DVD set. Pre-Codes aren't often given prime time slots and some of the best ones are still vaulted and unavailable in any format. Thank goodness this particular set is being released and may it hopefully be the springboard for the release of many other such sets.

As for the films themeselves, "Red Headed Woman", "Baby Face" and "Waterloo Bridge" are excellent choices both for connisseurs and classic film fans unfamiliar with this particular time in cinematic history. Jean Harlow could not have become the movie myth she eventually did in the post Breen years. Stanwyck, an exceptional actress in many genres, was at her best in many of her Pre-Codes and it's about time her fans got the chance to see one of her devilish best. As a fan of Mark Viera's "Sin in Soft Focus" and Mick LaSalle's "Complicated Women" who has not yet had the opportunity to watch the much praised Mae Clark, "Waterloo Bridge", I cannot wait to see this particular film.

December cannot come quickly enough.
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Before the Hays Code neutralized the sexually oriented behavior that could be shown in Hollywood movies for three decades, there was a crop of movies that reflected a more laissez-faire attitude toward risqué subjects like promiscuity, homosexuality and drug use. In what looks to be the first volume of an intriguing series, this two-disc DVD set from Turner Classic Movies contains three epochal works from that brief period that started with the talkie revolution and ended abruptly in 1934.

The oldest of the trio, 1931's "Waterloo Bridge", is fairly typical of the pre-code genre and has only a fleeting similarity to the glamorous 1940 MGM version with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. Directed by James Whale before he peaked with "Frankenstein" and "Showboat", this film is set in WWI London and stars the long-forgotten Mae Clarke, an actress best known for being the recipient of James Cagney's grapefruit attack in "The Public Enemy". She plays Myra, an American chorus girl who turns to prostitution when her show closes. Unlike Leigh's ethereal ballerina in the later film, Clarke's Myra is all bitterness with a shaft of hope in the form of an American soldier named Roy, whom she accidentally meets during an air raid. He comes from a wealthy family who find out about her profession, which leads to the inevitable consequences. Clarke is solid as Myra, though she does go overboard in her breakdown scene. Kent Douglass is rather wooden as Roy, though he certainly captures the soldier's callow nature. Done on the cheap by Universal and at only 81 minutes, it's an interesting and sometimes poignant curio thanks mostly to Whale's dexterity with melodrama. A freshly scrubbed, 23-year old Bette Davis shows up in the inconsequential role of Roy's sister.
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