While previous Forbidden Hollywood box sets simply rounded up random, titillating early-’30s titles, this edition narrows its focus: All six of the included pre-Code films were directed by William A. Wellman. A hard-living, tough-talking sonuvabitch who embodied the Hollywood he-man stereotype—as two supplemental featurettes attest, his “Wild Bill” nickname was earned—Wellman ended up being neither a Cahiers-coronated auteur nor a neglected genius. And while few of the movies here will ring bells for anyone besides a late-show addict, every selection is a rough jewel. Once you’ve seen the bunch collectively, you get a clear picture of both the era’s freedoms and a man who took full advantage of Tinseltown’s gloves-off attitude.
Wellman’s brutal, bare-knuckle style is what enlivens the trio of “women’s weepies”: Frisco Jenny (brothel madame Ruth Chatterton sacrifices all to save her DA son), Midnight Mary (Loretta Young in the pokey) and The Purchase Price (Barbara Stanwyck’s nightclub nightingale becomes a...mail-order bride?). Other Men’s Women is the runt of the bunch yet still a hoot. Heroes for Sale and Wild Boys of the Road, however, are as caustic and cynical as any Warners social dramas of the time; Richard Barthelmess morphs from war hero to pavement-pounding palooka in the former, while teen hobo punks ride the rails in the latter. Never mind the happy endings—these two nuggets paint a picture of a tattered America full of fascist cops, homeless communities and a raw deal for the common man. They’re both within spitting distance of being classics.
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