Films In This Collection
- Night Nurse
- Three on a Match
- The Divorcee
- A Free Soul
- Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin, and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood
- Audio Commentaries on Night Nurse and The Divorcee
- Theatrical trailers for Night Nurse, Three on a Match, and Night Nurse
Warner Bros. is doing classic film fans a great favor by releasing these rather rare pre-code gems on DVD for the first time. In 2006 they release the first volume, which featured the films Red Headed Woman, Baby Face, and Waterloo Bridge. While that volume was certainly a treat, and featured three excellent films (especially the beautiful Waterloo Bridge, which needs to be seen by everyone), special features were sparse and it didn’t feel like a very complete collection.
The second volume, however, is a real treat for any pre-code fan. Not only does it contain five of the absolute most essential film from the era, it also has commentaries and an in-depth documentary that really helps to create the entire pre-code experience for this set.
Vol. 2 features two Norma Shearer films, The Divorcee and A Free Soul. Shearer was considered the queen of the pre-code era, and these two films are the most important of her early 1930s career. The Divorcee is considered an extremely important and racy film, but there seems to be no escape from the values of the time, and in the end the themes of female empowerment are undercut by the double standard the film tries so hard to fight against. A Free Soul, however, is a fascinating and sensual film with Norma Shearer as a good girl gone bad and Clark Gable as a sexually charge gangster. Shearer and Gable were always a good pair, and they sizzle together in this wonderful pre-code which won Lionel Barrymore an Oscar.
Three on a Match may be the most important film of the era, simply as a non-stop example of all the rules filmmakers could break in the early 1930s. Before release, several minutes were cut from the film, so that it just became scene after scene of pre-code debauchery. Drug use, child abuse, sex outside of marriage, violence. While Three on a Match isn’t a particularly good film – it’s very dreary and plodding – it’s essential to watch as a great example of pre-code. And Ann Dvorak gives an absolutely phenomenal performance, possibly her very best.
Night Nurse is another film that seems to be just a huge collection of pre-code moments, though it’s certainly a better film than Three on a Match. It’s a film about a plot to starve children to death, and along the way feature violence against women, leading ladies in various states of undress, a consistently drunken mother, and a charming and completely likable bootlegger as the leading man. But unlike Three on a Match, its story is interesting and its very well paced. Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell make a very fun team.
Female is probably my favorite film on the set. Ruth Chatterton, a very underappreciated actress from the era, gives an excellent and extremely sexual performance as a CEO who likes to make her employees her boy toys. Chatterton was an older woman – she was 40 years old when this movie was released – and she used that wonderful fact to separate herself from her contemporaries. Her grace and maturity are unmatched. She’s sexy and she’s smart. Watching her seduce her latest man is some of the most fun a pre-code film has to offer. No man could resist the lovely Ruth Chatterton. She was in charge, in the board room and in the bedroom.
The special features on the set really help in giving the viewer an even deeper understanding of the films and politics of the pre-code era. The documentary Thou Shalt Not is fascinating, and features some great clips and pieces of some of the best movies of the era. The commentaries on Night Nurse and The Divorcee are both in depth and enthusiastic, done by people who are both knowledgeable of the era and who clearly love the films.
Forbidden Hollywood vol. 2 is simply one of the very best DVD sets to come out in a very long time. If you’re a classic film fan, it’s a must have.
By Katie Richardson