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Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 3

5 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

Ruth Chatterton in Frisco Jenny
SHE’S IN THE MONEY Ruth Chatterton hands her dames some dough in Frisco Jenny.

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.
—David Fear

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