From The Warner Archive: Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 7

At this point y’all should be pretty well-versed in Pre-Code Hollywood and all its glory. The Warner Archive is at it again, releasing Vol. 7 of the ever-popular Forbidden Hollywood series. This set features film that, while not the “best” films of the era, feature some of the most salacious scenarios that Hollywood had to offer at the time. These are the kind of morally “loose” films that caused the Catholic church to call the industry indecent. They’re also more sexually charged than most current Hollywood films. The films included in this set are: William A. Wellman’s The Hatchet Man, Edgar Selwyn’s Skyscraper Souls, Roy Del Ruth’s Employees’ Entrance and Robert Florey’s Ex-Lady.


While I didn’t 100% fall in love with any of the films in this set, I did enjoy every single one of them and I think fans of the era will be delighted with this volume of films. I’ll try  not to be too spoilery with the reviews below.


I will jump at any chance to see a Wild Bill Wellman film and this film did not disappoint. It’s set in San Francisco’s Chinatown and spans about 15 years or so. Robinson plays Wong Low Get, a hatchet man (hit man) who at the beginning of the film is summoned from Sacramento by his Tong (gang) to kill someone who had betrayed them. This someone turns out to be Wong’s best friend, who knowing he was about to die left Wong all his belonging, as well as his then-six-year-old daughter, to be his wife when she comes of age.


The film then jumps present-day (1930s) San Francisco, where there are no Tongs anymore. Wong marries the girl, now all grown and Americanized. But the past, as well as his promises, lead them all to trouble. Robison is great here, if you can get past the yellowface makeup. This film is interesting in that it feels very close to Warners’ other gangster films at the time. If only they could have actually had Chinese-American actors.


Loretta Young gives a sultry performance as Toya, Robinson’s ward who then becomes his wife. She’s as loose a woman as you would expect in a pre-code film, oozing sexuality in every frame.


Toya falls for another gangster and, obviously, chaos ensues. Although, the situation that arises, due to the characters’ Chinese heritage, adds for some fresh and new drama that I won’t spoil for you here. Just watch it and be amazed.


I just finished reading Faith Baldwin’s Skyscraper, on which this film is supposedly based. More like “inspired by” because really the only thing the book and this film have in common is the setting and the name of the characters. Pretty much everything else has been changed. It’s a shame, too, because I would have liked to see the feminist issues in the book addressed on film. That said, this is a fun, saucy, scandalous film in its own right.


Warren William, dubbed the King of Pre-Code Hollywood, is at the top of his game, as banker David Dwight, whose unscrupulous ways wreak havoc on pretty much everyone who works in the Seacoast National Bank Building.


Verre Teasdale is great as his secretary Sarah, who, of course, he is bonking. Their intimate scenes are particularly shocking for those not used to Pre-Code ways.


Maureen O’Sullivan plays Lynn, Sarah’s secretary, whose boyfriend Tom (Norman Foster) can’t get enough of her.


She’s also irresistible to the boss, who seduces her with champagne and false promises. Like I said, you should read the book. The women in film are all about what they can get from men. In the book, they’re focused on their career and being productive citizens, they just keep getting sidelined by men who won’t let them.


Anita Page bares (almost) all as a fashion model working in the same building. Her character in the book is so much more complicated and interesting than she is here, though Page gives it her all.


If you thought bank buildings were scandalous, wait until you get into the ruthless world of department stores!


Warren William is back, this time as a department store general manager, who fires people left and right and when he’s not doing that, he’s screwing vendors over and finding the best ways to manipulate consumers.


He softens only when in the presence of a young woman named Madeleine (Loretta Young), who is looking for a job at the store. He gets her one as a model. There she meets another worker, falling madly in love. This causes problems when Anderson meets Madeleine again at a company party and decides to seduce her.


Wallace Ford is great as Madeleine’s lover and Anderson’s right hand man, who is torn between work and love.


Alice White is a hoot as a model, whose “services” are employed to keep people from meddling with Anderson’s plans for the store.


I really wanted to love this film and I think it could have gone somewhere really interesting, but it doesn’t quite make it.


This is one of Bette Davis’s first truly lead roles, in which she plays free-spirited  artist Helen, who lives alone and has a lover and has no intention of ever getting married.


Until lover Gene Raymond steps in and insists.


But he’s got some competition – both in business and in love – by the name of Nick (Monroe Owsley).


Recently, I’ve become a big fan of Frank McHugh (he’s great in the Four Daughters series). He’s great as the film’s drunken comic relief.


I just had to share this shot. Look! It’s a married couple sharing a bed! Alert the media! Such scandal!

Disclaimer: This review is based on review disc given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on May 24, 2013, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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