DVD - Forbidden Hollywood
Three classic films that offer a rare glimpse at a last era of provocative filmmaking...
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 famous 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. 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.
The music. For the music, Leo F. Forbstein gets credits as conductor of the Vitaphone Orchestra, but it is not sure that he has composed music for the movie. During the opening credits, Baby Face (1926), with music and lyrics by Benny Davis and Harry Akst is played. The same song is also often played as background music, and also reprised on a phonograph record. Another one, St. Louis Blues (1914), with music and lyrics by W.C. Handy is played during the opening credits. After that the song was sung a cappella by Theresa Harris several times, and also often played as background music. Finally, Let Me Call You Sweetheart (1910), with music and lyrics by Beth Slater Whitson and Leo Friedman. It was played on a player piano in Powers' speakeasy.
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. The film really helped put her on top and type cast her in the public's mind even when MGM later softened her image.
The music. The title song Red-Headed Woman, is written by Ray Egan (as Raymond B. Egan) and Richard A. Whiting. It can be heard twice: the first time the song is played and sung by an unidentified man during the opening credits and the second time a reprise by an unidentified male singer in a nightclub. Another song, I'm Nobody's Baby, with words and music by Benny Davis, Milton Ager and Lester Santley is played on a radio. There’s more source music: Frankie and Johnnie, with lyrics by Ren Shields and played on a phonograph, St. Louis Blues by W.C. Handy, played on a radio and John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever, played on Lil's car radio.
Waterloo Bridge is the early Universal version of the MGM perennial, this time directed by James Whale. Film historians who have seen this version have always claimed it is far superior to the version starring Vivien Leigh in 1940 with a memorable performance by Mae Clarke. (By the way, that's Mae Clarke peeking out of the DVD Case). It is a treat to see and notable for a very early appearance of Bette Davis in a small supporting role.
The music. The music was composed by Val Burton, who was not credited for that. And, God Save the King, written by Henry Carey (1744), was sung at the music hall.
Since this is promoted as Volume 1, it is great to contemplate what other rare gems might make it to DVD now so all of us can see them. Bring on the Forbidden Hollywood Collections.
Released by Warner Home Video on December 5, 2006.
Available from Amazon.com.