Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 10 DVD Review: The End of an Era? Not Quite!

It has been a full ten years since the first Forbidden Hollywood collection wandered into our lives courtesy the Turner Classic Movie Archives. Since then, the multiple film/disc series has moved over to the Warner Archive Collection for distribution, and has given viewers around the world a chance to see a few forgotten ditties that wound up becoming buried by the sands of time. And while it is with a heavy heart that I report this latest installment in the franchise ‒ Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 10 ‒ is to be the final chapter in this series, I am pleased to announce it shall not mark the end of our receiving pre-Code goodies from the WAC (my reviews for Volume 8 and Volume 9 are also available here). Moreover, I am pleased as punch to say this round-up of movies has some great gems to offer.

We begin with Guilty Hands from 1931. Essentially a pre-Code variant on the howcatchem mystery most commonly associated with Columbo, this movie is so old, actor Lionel Barrymore (It’s a Wonderful Life, the Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie film series) was not only young and thin, but he was still able to walk, too! And he is at his boisterous, nefarious best here as an attorney with so much (legal) experience in the art of murder, he has figured out what he believes to be the perfect way to get away with it. And though he has no intention of bringing said fantasy to life, he must resort to doing just that once his very rich and unforgivably sleazy “friend” Alan Mowbray (the movie is so old, even he is young and thin!), who has ‒ somehow or another ‒ managed to convince Barrymore’s daughter (Madge Evans) to marry him!

But will Lionel truly be able to pull off his stunt, especially once Mowbray’s mistress, Kay Francis, begins to put the pieces together? The prolific W.S. Van Dyke directs ‒ with some uncredited assistance by Mr. Barrymore himself ‒ this fun little crime thriller from MGM. Some interesting tidbits here: William Bakewell, an actor who is perhaps best-known today for not being remembered at all (other than by those of you who watched Radar Men from the Moon one too many times), gives an early performance during his lesser-known leading man phase; and the venerable C. Aubrey Smith ‒ usually cast as an old guy who dies (see: Another Thin Man, And Then There Were None, Five Came Back) ‒ plays an old priest here (and who actually lives for once!). And yes, the movie is so old, even the already ancient C. Aubrey Smith looks young!

Warren William highlights two features here in Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 10. The first is Warner Bros.’ 1932 crime drama The Mouthpiece, courtesy the directing duo of James Flood and Elliott Nugent. In this outing, Mr. William starts out as a prominent prosecutor who is climbing up the ladder of success so fast, he doesn’t even need rungs. Unfortunately, his determination to win a big murder case ends with the wrong man being sent to the chair, which ‒ unlike the high-profile shysters of today ‒ weighs heavily on his conscious. After a brief stint as an alcoholic, Warren reverses his stance: becoming an infamous criminal defense attorney who always manages to free his client, no matter how truly guilty they may be, and even if he has to swallow poison in front of a very surprised jury just to do so (something he actually does, marking his watch while the jury makes their decision, before subtly slipping out to get his stomach pumped)!

Alas, it’s not enough for The Mouthpiece, who longs to sink his teeth into his cute little Kentucky-bred secretary, Sidney Fox (Murder in the Rue Morgue‘s dazzling but doomed heroine: she would die ten years later by ‒ wait for it ‒ swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills). Despite all of his attempts to lay claim to the nubile and naïve beauty from the land of derbys and bourbon, Sidney and her darn morals prefer to keep things professional, especially since she is betrothed to another forgotten would-be leading man of the era, William Janney. But when Sidney’s beau gets framed for robbery, Warren must not only swallow his pride for a change, he also has to put his reputation with his scandalous underworld clients on the line in order to find out who truly did commit the crime! Aline MacMahon co-stars as Warren’s faithful (tortured) assistant, Guy Kibbee, Stanley Fields, and J. Carrol Naish are among the featured supporting players.

Have you ever wondered what the Secrets of the French Police are? Neither have I. But it wasn’t until I saw the 1932 RKO Radio Pictures B movie of the same name that I learned of the Sûreté’s greatest classified weapon: The Wizard of Oz himself, Frank Morgan. Cast as a detective determined to figure out just what the heck is going on in this tale from director A. Edward Sutherland and legendary producer David O. Selznick (King Kong, Gone with the Wind), Morgan gets a chance to go undercover in one scene wherein he poses as a drunk (which was not a stretch for the actor, by most reports) who acts and sounds suspiciously like a certain Emerald City gatekeeper. As for the plot itself, this quickie centers on the infamous Anastasia impersonation of the early 20th Century, though in an entirely different fashion that what we are accustomed to.

The main star of the film is Danish import Gwili Andre. Her second role (starring or otherwise) in the industry, Andre would later join the near-infinite list of aspiring Tinseltown starlets whose career suddenly hit a wall; her death by smoke inhalation from a house fire in 1959 unofficially attributed to as a very complicated suicide. Here, Ms. Andre is the girlfriend of Parisian thief John Warburton, who provides a double service to both his country and his love when the Sûreté asks him to investigate strange goings-on at manor of Russian madman Gregory Ratoff, who is trying to brainwash Andre so he can cash in. Adorn in bad yellowface makeup (which is really odd and unnecessary, since Ratoff actually was Russian!), Ratoff goes full-on Bela Lugosi (before it was popular) as the movie bizarrely becomes more of an early horror flick as it reaches its strange finale. A little early (female) nudity can be seen (in tasteful long shots, of course).

Warren William returns for his second and final starring role in Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 10 in the last offering from 1932 here, The Match King. The First National/Vitaphone picture, originally distributed to cinemas by Warner Bros., is quite an intriguing tale for the youth of today, as it closely mimics the mastermind behind one of the early 20th Century’s most fascinatingly infamous monopoly players, Ivar Kreuger. Paul Kroll (Mr. William) is a Swedish immigrant who has absolutely no trouble whatsoever taking advantage of people. He gets coworkers to confide in him, then has them fired. He woos the miserable wife of his business partner into giving him their savings under the pretense she and he will run away together, then heads back to Sweden to take charge of his family’s match factory. Once there, he uses his nefarious business skills and masterful technique of lying and conning in order to make his company successful.

In fact, Kroll is so successful at duping investors and competitors alike, he soon uses his imaginary line of credit (and very solid faith in his own abilities) to acquire an international monopoly on matches ‒ going as far as to invent the “three on a match” superstition just to increase sales by a third! Kroll still manages to keep his magnificent Ponzi scheme afloat as World War I breaks out, Germany falls into despair, and even up to the eve of the Great Depression itself, when his determination to keep up the charade leads to some truly desperate measures. Lili Damita, Errol Flynn’s first wife, portrays the recurring object of Warren’s desire (fancy that!); Glenda Farrell, Juliette Compton, Claire Dodd, Harold Huber, John Wray, and Alan Hale are among the many suckers who fall for the word of this real-life confidence man, most of whom only appear briefly as the story establishes itself. An uncredited Hal B. Wallis produced, William Keighley and Howard Bretherton directed.

Lastly in the Warner Archive Collection’s Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 10, we have Ever in My Heart from 1933. Another Hal B. Wallis production (he didn’t credit himself this time, either) distributed by Warner Bros., this romantic drama set before and during World War I presents us with one of the earliest starring roles by Barbara Stanwyck. Though she would rarely had anything positive to say about the films made under her Warner Bros. contract, her performance here is second to none as she effectively, delicately brings small town girl Mary Archer to life (and to love). Initially the love interest of her childhood beau Jeff (Ralph Bellamy), Mary Archer’s horizons expand as soon as she meets Jeff’s German chemist buddy Hugo (Otto Kruger), who turns out to be everything Mary has ever looked for. It doesn’t take very long for the pair to be wed (it was the 1930s, after all, Code or no Code), and Hugo soon becomes a proud American citizen.

That is, of course, until the war breaks out and a wave of anti-German propaganda spreads over the country (you know, sort of like it would again twenty years later, only without the correct context). After that, everyone in town begins to sneer and jeer Hugo and his spouse; culminating in every conceivable type of loss a family could endure. Sending his faithful wife back her folks with the intent to join her soon, Hugo instead returns to his native Germany, as the country that took him in as one of its own has not actually treated him as such. The drama then moves to France, with Mary working abroad to help out the war effort as her longtime pal Jeff joins the ranks. Alas, when talk of an undercover German spy begins to surface, well, I’m sure you get the idea. You’ll also get all of the emotion Ever in My Heart possesses ‒ right down to the tear-jerking finale that so effectively wraps up this final outing of Forbidden Hollywood from the Warner Archive.

But don’t cry (well, you might not be able to help it as director Archie Mayo’s Ever in My Heart concludes), ladies and gentlemen! For though this marvelous five-disc set may very well be the last installment of Forbidden Hollywood to hail from the outfit (at least under the familiar banner TCM started all those years ago), it will most assuredly not be the final pre-Code flick to see a release from the Warner Archive Collection. The five feature films from Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 10 are presented in their original 1.37:1 aspect ratios with mono English audio, and each look pretty darn good considering their age and the fact these films were all but forgotten for the better part of a century, and theatrical trailers are included with a few of the titles (many marketing materials were lost or destroyed over the years). In addition to this set, the WAC is re-releasing previous installments of the series, so prepare to get your pre-Code party on.

Highly recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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