Monday, May 20, 2013
'Forbidden Hollywood' V7: Pre-marital, Extra-marital, and For-profit Sex
This review of the recently released four-film DVD set "Forbidden Hollywood Volume 7" coincides with Warner Archive announcing the upcoming release of the the third season of the '80s primetime soap "Falcon Crest." That companion to "Dallas" the Original Series had almost as much adultery, evil doings, and just plain ole sin as the "Forbidden's" pre-code classics. However, the "Forbidden" films lacked a mahvelous hirsute Speedo-clad leading man.
The relevant "code" was the "Hays Code," that established content standards that Warner Brothers and other Hollywood Studios adopted under the philosophy that self-regulation was preferable to the feds stepping in and imposing stricter guidelines. These new standards softened the depictions of free (and not-so-free) love, violence, and alternative lifestyles that make the '20s and '30s era "Forbidden" films so awesome.
The 1933 Bette Davis classic "Ex-Lady" in the set prompted craving a cigarette despite being a tobacco virgin. Peanut butter M&Ms did the trick.
"Ex-Lady" started with Davis' successful career gal Helen Bauer and Gene Raymond's Don Peterson enjoying a very happy and relatively discrete "friends with benefits" relationship. A scene in which Peterson's shadow on the bedroom wall "the morning after" is one of the more clever ways that filmmakers left enough to the imagination to not completely shock Depression-era sensibilities. All for "Forbidden" films had several cut-away scenes soon after a couple entered a bedroom.
Don persuades Helen to make a honest man out of him and to have a modern partnership that extends to her being the well-qualified art manager at his small advertising agency. Personal and professional setbacks related to the marriage lead to soul searching by both Don and Helen.
"Pre-code" King, and original "Star is Born" director, William Wellman directed Depression-era cinema god Edward G. Robinson in the compelling but unintentionally amusing "oh so wrong" melodrama "The Hatchet Man" that "Forbidden" included.
A badly made-up Robinson played an "Oriental" hatchet man, who followed the tradition of inheriting the role of a "Chinaman" who used a small chopping implement to dispense justice on behalf of the Chinese tong, which essentially was equivalent to a mafia family, of which he was a member of the governing council.
A raging war between rival tongs when the film opened required that Robinson's Wong Low Get snuff his BFF with whom Get had immigrated to San Francisco from China. Knowing both that his death was imminent and that Get would cause it, said BFF arranged in his will that Get marry the BFF's young daughter Sun Toya San when she reached an appropriate age.
The action then fast-forwarded to Get and San, played by an equally badly made-up Loretta Young, falling in love and entering a truly consensual marriage.
The problem started when San fell in love with a bodyguard who was assigned to protect Get. On virtually catching the young lovers in the act, Get chose to not break her stride and to let them go off together despite the high price in monetary and status related to that largese.
On learning that San had run off to China with said bodyguard and become a "serving girl" in a high-class Chinese brothel, Get travels to China (but did not sail in a little rowboat) to tend to San's dirty laundry. Said bodyguard, who faced a real risk of getting axed, was no longer feeling cocky and did see his past in Get. These well-played scenes were far from junk.
Archive provided the additional treat of wonderfully sleazy early Mac Daddy Warren William in "Skyscraper Souls" and "Employees Entrance." In both cases, William played highly successful business executives with an eye for the ladies and a disregard for their feelings.
Scenes in "Entrance" in which ruthless department store manager Kurt Anderson coerced a department store employee to whore herself out to a business rival and later promised her the earth, the moon, and the stars only to send her packing minutes later were wonderful. "Dallas'"J.R. Ewing could not have done it any better.
Another great scene in "Entrance" had Anderson's newly appointed right-hand man asking his marriage-adverse boss if he liked women. Anderson replied that he did, but also insisted that his underling always be (sexually?) available to him and demanded that said underling move into the hotel rooms next to where Anderson resided. Whether Anderson desired a J. Edgar Hoover/Clyde Tolson style clandestine homosexual relationship was left to the audience's imagination.
The most cool element regarding "Souls" was that legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper played Ella Dwight, who was the wife of William's David Dwight. Ella was glad to let David dip his pen in as much company ink as he liked so long as he allowed Ella to continue enjoying the lavish lifestyle to which she had become accustomed.
The retribution that David experienced regarding his extra-marital activities related to playing Tarzan to Maureen O'Sullivan's Jane in that her character was a reasonably chaste, but perhaps not "innocent," newcomer to the big city.
The frequency with which the men and women in "Souls" changed their presumed bed partners as the financial fortunes of said partners rose and fell was entertaining. Additionally, both sexes enjoyed at least a field's worth of tobacco during this 98-minute film.
One of the best exchanges in the entire "Forbidden" set was between O'Sullivan's female boss and a male diamond merchant. The merchant remarked that he practiced an old profession, and the working girl replied that she did as well.
These recaps of this awesome films showed both how filmmakers succeeding in conveying sex and sensuality without foul language, exposing naughty bits, or even showing a couple between the sheets. Theses films truly are an important part of our cultural heritage.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Forbidden" is welcome to email me. I would also like to announce that I recently joined Twitter under @tvdvdguy.