A Quintet of Pre-Codes from the Warner Archive

The WAC has more early '30s fun to offer, featuring young Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, leading man Edward Everett Horton, and a pre-wheelchair Lionel Barrymore.
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While the days of their Forbidden Hollywood sets may be behind us now, the folks at the Warner Archive Collection have nevertheless kept their promise we would see more Pre-Code rarities released to DVD. In recent months, the Warner Archive has unleashed several forgotten ditties from the vaults to MOD discs, all of which feature the classic same risqué elements, lovely lassies, and ambiguously fey men of the era whom we have grown to admire in the decades that have since passed. Among the talent included in these individually released titles are the likes of Alice White, Edward Everett Horton, Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, Lionel Barrymore, Lyle Talbot, and some newbie director feller sporting the ridiculous name of Busby Berkeley.

Playing Around (1930, First National Pictures)

Alice White, Chester Morris, and William Bakewell star in this enjoyable look at how bad spoiled girls have it. The beautiful Miss White is a meager stenographer who yearns for sights other than the inside of her father's cigar shop and the wages her soda jerk boyfriend (William Bakewell, looking very much like Nosferatu). And she gets a chance to do just that after she gives her beau the brush-off and enters a leg contest at a fancy club ‒ gaining the attention of gangster Chester Morris in the process. Alas, Morris neglects to learn much about his prospective gunmoll, especially once he guns down her father in a cigar store hold-up! Several musical numbers find their way in here, including a theme for the opening credits co-performed by Miss White herself. Richard Carlyle, Marion Byron, Ann Brody, and good ol' Gabby Hayes also appear. Mervyn LeRoy directs from a script based on Viña Delmar's short story Sheba.

Wide Open (1930, Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.)

Despite the legacy he left behind as quirky co-star of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' best vehicles and narrator for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show's "Fractured Fairy Tales," Edward Everett Horton rarely played a leading man. But he does just that in this delightfully silly early screwball comedy as a nebbish phonograph company bookkeeper with a frightful fear of people. Especially the fairer sex. The regular target of cruel jokes from nearly everyone, Edward's life starts to change substantially once a mysterious beauty (Patsy Ruth Miller) sneaks into his house and life. Louise Fazenda is the weird office girl obsessed with him, the great Louise Beavers plays our hero's maid (of course), and Fred Kelsey has a memorable cameo as a cop (what else!) in this Warner Bros. production from director Archie Mayo. Vera Lewis and T. Roy Barnes also star in this adaptation of Edward Bateman Morris' The Narrow Street.

Big Business Girl (1931, First National Pictures)

Previously released on videocassette by MGM/UA's own Forbidden Hollywood series, Big Business Girl features Oscar-winning Loretta Young at a time where she really lived up to her last name. Barely all of 18-years-old here, Loretta plays Claire McIntyre, a college grad determined to leave her mark on the world of big business. After her unmotivated band leader dropout boyfriend Johnny (Frank Albertson) heads to Paris for a gig, Claire moves into advertising, much to the delight of boss Robert Clayton (Ricardo Cortez), who expects more than just good ideas from her. The struggle to keep things professional become all the more cumbersome once Johnny returns from abroad unexpectedly. Joan Blondell has a powerful co-starring role as a working girl of a different sort in this better-than-average Pre-Code drama from director William A. Seiter. Frank Darien, Dorothy Christy, and George "Gabby" Hayes (yes, again!) also star.

The Washington Masquerade (1932, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

The corruptive nature of politics is on full display here in this surprisingly lengthy 88-minute drama from 1932. Here, not too long before he was confined to a wheelchair for most of his on-screen appearances, Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, MGM's Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie films) plays Jeff Keane, an honest defense attorney from the Midwest with a dead wife and a grown daughter (Diane Sinclair). Deciding to clean out the waters of the US Senate a bit, Keane heads to Washington, where his fair and balanced sense of ethics attracts everyone's attention ‒ especially the powerful lobbyists who don't want him to make a difference! Karen Morley is the seductive bought-and-paid-for vixen assigned with luring Barrymore into the type of bribe we're used to reading about in the papers today. Charles Brabin directs from a French play by Henri Bernstein. Nils Asther and Reginald Barlow co-star.

She Had to Say Yes (1933, First National Pictures)

The rarely-seen directorial debut of choreographer Busby Berkeley (don't worry ‒ kids there aren't any musical numbers in this one) finds innocent Loretta Young cast adrift in the world of sleazy men once again. Inspired by real (unfortunate) instances working class women faced during The Great Depression, the story takes place at a clothing company which regularly recruits female coworkers "escort" visiting out-of-town clients. Her cheating fiancé, Regis Toomey, asks her to keep Lyle Talbot happy while he himself fools around with slutty co-worker Suzanne Kilborn (aka Mrs. Chester Morris, in her only film role). Alas, Lyle falls for Loretta, paving the way for one of the weirdest love triangles in recent memory. Winnie Lightner (yes, that was a real name), Hugh Herbert, Ferdinand Gottschalk, and Fred Kelsey (this time as a house detective!) also appear in this odd romance co-directed by George Amy, as based on a story by John Francis Larkin.

Also available now from the WAC vaults are new-to-DVD Pre-Code titles Broadway Babies (1929) with Alice White, and Stage Mother (1933) with Maureen O'Sullivan. Mastered from the best elements available (ranging from video masters to 16mm prints), these Pre-Code rarities ‒ along with many more ‒ are ready for you to (re)discover at the Warner Archive.

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