The Forbidden Hollywood collections have been bringing us some of the greatest pre-code films to DVD for the first time for almost a decade. Originally released through the TCM Vault Collection, the last few editions have come from the Warner Archive Collection. Vol. 6 has been out for a few weeks now, but I was finally able to sit down and watch the four films included: The Wet Parade, Downstairs, Mandalay and Massacre. It’s a pretty great collection – all of films I hadn’t heard of before. Vol. 7 will be coming out shortly (and I will hopefully report on that collection as well). After the cut, I’ll briefly discuss the four films that are included in this excellent manufactured on demand set.
Coming from The Warner Archive on Tuesday is George Archainbaud’s deliciously pre-Code thriller Thirteen Women, adapted from the novel by Tiffany Thayer. This film is also notorious because it features the first and only film appearance of Peg Entwistle, whose body was found at the Hollywood sign, having committed suicide a few weeks before the film’s release.
I first saw The Thin Man late on a Saturday night on PBS when I was in high school. I caught it from the very beginning (rare when you’re flipping through the channels!) and I fell in love. That PBS station then showed the film’s sequels every subsequent Saturday. It was a magical six weeks. I still wish I owned The Thin Man DVD collection. William Powell and Myrna Loy made 14 films together including 1936’s Libeled Lady with Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. Powell and Loy have some of the best on-screen chemistry ever captured on film (hence their being paired together so many times), but nothing beats the work they did together as Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor William Powell, Best Director and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Here Comes the Navy, The House of Rothschild, Imitation of Life, One Night of Love, Viva Villa!, The White Parade and winner It Happened One Night. As you can see, there were TWELVE Best Picture nominees. Oddly enough, there were only three Best Actor nominees that year, four Best Actress nominees (Bette Davis was the fourth, a write-in) and three Best Director nominees (Van Dyke, Victor Schertzinger for One Night of Love and winner Frank Capra for It Happened One Night).
Libeled Lady is one of those films that was only nominated for one Academy Award, the big one: Best Picture. I don’t have the stats on how often this happened, but early on in the process and especially from 1931-1943 when they had more than five nominees (the 5th ceremony had eight nominated films and the 6th-16th ceremonies each had ten nominated films), this was more common than it is now. Regardless, it is a wonderful screwball comedy with an outstanding main cast: Jean Harlow, William Powell, Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy. All four of them have amazing comic timing and chemistry to spare. The other films nominated that year were: Anthony Adverse, Dodsworth, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, The Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities, Three Smart Girls and winner The Great Ziegfeld.