Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
2012 saw the Warner Archive Collection take control of the Forbidden Hollywood DVD line that had three previous volumes released under the Turner Classic Movies banner. As the grand poobah of burn-on-demand cinema, it was an ideal fit, and the Archive jumped at the chance to offer its followers even more flicks created before the enforcement of the infamous Hays Code. While the Forbidden mantle suggested that these titles were all about more scandalous stories and lurid content than the Code would later allow, blunt subject matter and dialogue that needn't abide by any moral guidelines took greater precedence. These pictures often brought audiences to some sketchy places and taught them harsh truths, in addition to letting them experience a bit of vicariously naughty fun. It's this sort of mix that's represented in Warner Archive's Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8 set, a newly-released foursome of vintage tales that run the gamut from romantic melodramas to movies that make you laugh just by how grizzled everyone looks. The quality of these selections vary, but at the very least, Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8 offers a line-up of pre-code goodies to satisfy whatever mood may happen to strike you.

Blonde Crazy (1931) (Dir. Roy Del Ruth)
A bellboy (James Cagney) joins forces with a chambermaid (Joan Blondell) and embarks on a new career as a con artist. Blonde Crazy is presumably the crown jewel of this collection, what with being placed on the very first disc you see after cracking the case open and featured on the cover art itself. Though the title indicates a screwball farce on the horizon, the tone that this film adopts is much more touchy, switching back and forth between serious subject matter and silly banter throughout its 79 minutes. The picture's uneven nature doesn't stop there, as the narrative tears through about three different subplots in fast order, from Cagney and Blondell's inaugural scheming, to the pair shaking down another confidence man (Louis Calhern), and to Blondell's romance with a Wall Street sap (Ray Milland). This gives Blonde Crazy a jerky, stop-and-go pace that it never recovers from, despite its best efforts to take your mind off of it. Cagney and Blondell's rapport is cool and comes tinged with plenty of pre-code naughtiness (with the latter dishing out slaps by the dozen and the former thinking nothing of intruding on his accomplice's bubble bath). The script is brimming with witty one-liners ("The age of chivalry is over; this is the age of chiselry!"), and the middle act with Calhern's rival swindler amounts to a well-executed caper. Blonde Crazy has its fun moments, but like its protagonists, it never sticks around in one place for too long and leaves you feeling a little cheated out of your time.

Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8

Dark Hazard (1934) (Dir. Alfred E. Green)
A former hotshot gambler (Edward G. Robinson) gets drawn into the world of dog racing. In a way, Dark Hazard is this collection's most revolutionary title. It doesn't boldly address matters of sex or societal ails as some of its pre-code brethren have, but it sets out to subvert audience expectations and achieves its goals. Dark Hazard does the opposite of what movies like this -- in which the fast-living protagonist must learn to tread the straight and narrow -- have trained us to anticipate. Those waiting for Robinson's character to be scolded for setting foot in a gambling den and shown the error of his ways are in for a long sit, because this story is one in which he's actually better off living his so-called sinful life. Robinson is absolutely miserable when he shacks up with a good girl (Genevieve Tobin) and tries going domestic, only coming alive when he bets whatever cash he can scrounge up on whatever game from which he hasn't been tossed out. We do see the toll his home life suffers because of it, but it's to the cleverly-constructed screenplay's credit that we understand both sides of the issue. We get why Robinson can only find happiness in gambling just as much as we see why it drives Tobin to make the decisions she does (some of which come to betray her moral superiority). Dark Hazard is a picture that doesn't judge and is all the more interesting because of it, putting real weight behind its narrative curveballs and being so smart in its execution as to not make you mind all the melodrama lurking about.

Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8

Hi, Nellie! (1934) (Dir. Mervyn LeRoy)
In a more lighthearted turn than usual, Paul Muni plays a newspaperman demoted to writing the love advice column after botching a big story...or so he thinks. I wouldn't go so far as to call Hi, Nellie! an outright comedy, though it's still a change of pace for Muni. The man who portrayed Emile Zola, Tony Camonte, and a host of other very serious roles gets to act the most smug and sarcastic he's ever been, and boy, does he seize the day. He takes to the rapid-fire, lingo-laden dialogue that people associate with reporter melodramas like a pro, rattling off terminology that likely never existed but sounds really cool anyway. Muni is having a ball as a smarmy jerk here, which makes it all the more of a bummer that Hi, Nellie! doesn't give him very much interesting stuff to do. Once his character is forced to read love letters for a living, you might expect him to undergo some sort of humbling experience or at least show us what happens when a rough-and-tumble reporter has to act all romantic. But Muni wears a pouty puss until fate bails him out with a lead in the third act, and we're straight up told that his new column is a success, the film having missed out on the chance to use clever writing to convince us viewers. Hi, Nellie! coasts along a while on the charisma and rapport of its actors, but a good chunk of its insults and bon mots end up feeling like filler keeping some much-needed narrative meat from balancing things out.

Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8

Strangers May Kiss (1931) (Dir. George Fitzmaurice)
A young woman (Norma Shearer) with modern views on romance finds herself torn between a pair of beaus (Neil Hamilton and Robert Montgomery). Somewhere in Strangers May Kiss lies the framework of a braver film than the one it becomes. This isn't to say chances aren't taken, as Shearer's heroine shares an attitude towards love that would raise the collective eyebrows of the prudish set. She's a strong-willed gal who regards marriage as a stifling institution, eschewing the relationship her chums would rather see her begin with the mannered Montgomery to go out and have fun with Hamilton's dashing journalist. Of course, complications arise and send her off on a journey of further self-discovery, but it's around this point that Strangers May Kiss starts losing its dramatic footing. Though having Shearer sort out her love life on her own terms is a fantastic premise that's a little daring for its time, it quickly loses focus and results in a rather shiftless and ambling third act. Shearer strains to sell her character's turmoil and turns out a fine performance in the process, but without spoiling any vital information, let's just say her most important choice isn't born from a passionate yearning so much as from her going, "Well, as long as we're here..." Strangers May Kiss supplies the viewer with wit and solid acting aplenty, but it's begging for a little more bite to help it explode off the screen.

Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8

Video
All four films are presented in a full screen 4x3, 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The movies have been remastered, although they aren't pristine, scratch-free transfers by a long shot. The wear on these titles is noticeable, but it isn't distracting -- as with the previous "Forbidden Hollywood" set, the quality is about what you'd expect to see if you stumbled upon any of these on late-night cable. The flecks and whatnot do carry a level of charm, as if these four were unearthed from the deepest recesses of some forgotten vault...although if I were to declare one movie to have the least amount of blemishes, Hi, Nellie! would have to be the champ.

Audio
All four films are presented with English-only, Dolby Digital mono tracks. No subtitles are provided. Like the video, the sound shows its age, but it's perfectly passable all-around and suffers from no majorly audible missteps. Strangers May Kiss experiences a couple strange audio dips from time to time, but this appears to be more of the fault of the movie itself than Warner Archive's doing.

Extras
Trailers for Blonde Crazy (2:35), Dark Hazard (4:39), and Hi, Nellie! (2:36). These trailers are located on the discs of their respective films.

Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8
Overall
Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8 isn't a sterling collection, but it's a marked improvement over last year's Volume 7. Whereas the latter contained only one worthwhile picture surrounded by a trio of inferior flicks, the worst ones in the former are still watchable and possess some strengths to help balance out the flaws. Whether or not you take the plunge and buy Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 8 depends on how much you admire the movies themselves or the stars involved in them, but as long as you don't mind watching them without a whole lot of polish, classic cinema buffs will find this to be an overall decent addition to their libraries.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the DVD image quality.


Links: