TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume One (Waterloo Bridge / Baby Face / Red-Headed Woman)
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Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 1 (TCM Archives) (DVD)
In the early 1930s, before Hollywood began enforcing a self-imposed Production Code, many films allowed for extraordinary frankness, including nudity, adultery and prostitution, featured in this restored and remastered three-movie collection. Saucy Jean Harlow shrewdly vamps unwitting exeuctives to get what she wants in Red-Headed Woman (1932; Disc 1), scripted by Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). James Whale (Frankenstein) directs Waterloo Bridge (1931; Disc 1), starring Mae Clarke in the gritty first film version of the acclaimed wartime romance. Added to the National Film Registry in 2005, Baby Face (1933; Disc 2) stars Barbara Stanwyck as an amoral beauty who sleeps her way to the top. This collection boasts both the Original Theatrical Release and a Prerelease Version, rediscovered and restored by the Library of Congress, before censors of the day demanded the elimination of several scenes.]]>
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
- Waterloo Bridge (1931)
- Baby Face (1933): theatrical version and rediscovered longer version
- Red-Headed Woman (1932)
- Introduction by Robert Osborne
- Baby Face theatrical trailer
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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.
This new two-disc DVD set will feature three titles, but four films, two of them extremely rare. The first disc will include James Whale's 1931 "Waterloo Bridge", a film once thought "lost" and for the last 20 years only screened at film retrospectives (and apparently once or twice on TCM several years ago). The 1940 remake starring Vivien Leigh, though a wonderful and deservedly beloved film, will not be included here since it is not from the pre-Code era, and was never suppressed as part of the "Forbidden Hollywood" catalogue. Instead, the second film on this first disc will be the racy 1932 Jean Harlow vehicle, "Red-Headed Woman", which pushed the envelope back in the day for its bold depiction of a sexually free secretary who sets her sights on her married boss.
The second disc will include two versions of a single film, the 1933 scorcher "Baby Face", starring Barbara Stanwyck as a blonde bombshell who - after being pimped out by her father in her own hometown - moves to New York and sleeps her way up the corporate ladder to the very top. Many film historians point to "Baby Face" as the single film most responsible for the introduction of the Hays Code, the one that ushered in an era of censorship that was to last for more than 30 years. Intriguingly, the version that so shocked the public was actually an edited version of the original cut, which then disappeared for over 70 years ... until a complete print was found, restored, and finally premiered on the revival circuit in early 2006. That long-awaited, long-sought original version will be included on this set, as will be the edited version that managed to cause such an uproar when it played theatres in 1933.
And there you have it, the official contents of the "Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume One", enough to have a large number of pre-Code devotees jumping for joy at the chance to finally see (and own!) some seldom-displayed jewels. Let's just all hope that Volumes Two, Three, and so on are quick to follow!
Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) is a barmaid in her dad's blue-collar home saloon where she deals with the constant unwanted advances of male customers. Soon after her father's death, Lily moves to Manhattan with her maid, Chico, to become a ruthless gold digger. She meets and seduces a succession of men (and boys) on her way to what she thinks is the top. One of the men is a young John Wayne (no, he's not a cowboy in the city). As she sleeps around, there are jealousies and a murder. Lily and Chico take their loot of furs and jewels and money and flee to Paris. The end. But by the time the movie was released, the production code was in effect and censors tacked on an ending that featured Lily giving away her money! As if.
Long thought lost, the original, uncut version of the film is included in the DVD collection as is the edited version that many think broke the straw of censorial concern and brought about the absurd (Catholic dominated?) Production Code.
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A great classic with even better acting.
No one act like these stars anymore.
Now with Netflix?