On March 4, Warner Home Video (WHV) will introduce a second group of sassy and taboo films from Hollywood’s Pre-Production Code era with the DVD debut of TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Volume 2. Following the success of last year’s Volume 1, this new 3-disc collection will contain five pre-code sizzlers, with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Disc One spotlights Norma Shearer in her Best Actress Oscar®-winning role as The Divorcee and again in A Free Soul; with Lionel Barrymore and Clark Gable. Disc Two features Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak in Three on a Match paired with the Michael Curtiz-directed comedy Female starring Ruth Chatterton as a no-nonsense CEO. Disc Three features William Wellman’s powerful drama Night Nurse, which stars Barbara Stanwyck with a very young Clark Gable, along with the new documentary feature Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. The film provides fascinating insight into the American psyche of late 1920s and early 1930s, illustrating why, more than seventy years later, the so-called “Pre-Code” movies remain among the most vital and provocative films ever made.
The Divorcee (1930, 82 min)
Based on Ursula Parrott’s spicy 1929 novel “Ex-wife,” the highly controversial The Divorcee was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture. Norma Shearer won for Best Actress as a woman who confronts the hypocrisy of the double standard after catching her husband in a compromising position and forcing him to confess his infidelities. Her solution to the problem: try to match him tryst for tryst.
A Free Soul (1931, 91 min)
In A Free Soul, Lionel Barrymore captured an Oscar for his portrayal of a brilliant alcoholic lawyer Stephen Ashe, who successfully defends dashing gangster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) on a murder charge only to find that his headstrong daughter, Jan (Norma Shearer), has fallen in love with his client. Jan, a fun-loving socialite seeking freedom from her blue-blood upbringing, is only too eager to dump her aristocratic boyfriend (Leslie Howard) for the no-good gangster. She runs away from her childhood home to become Ace's mistress, embarking on a series of seedy adventures in New York's underbelly. Desperate to save his daughter's tainted reputation, Stephen finds her and makes her a deal: He'll stop drinking if she'll stop seeing Ace. The thrilling conclusion might just tear them apart forever. Shearer and director Clarence Brown also received nominations for their work in this powerful and moving film.
- The Divorcee commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta
Three on a Match (1932, 63 min)
The gangster melodrama, Three on a Match, stars Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak as a trio of school chums – Mary, Ruth and Vivian – meeting for a reunion ten years after high school. Director Mervyn LeRoy crams much plot into the 64 minute run time following each of the women’s lives. Mary is now a chorus girl after a stint in reform school; level-headed Ruth has a job as a secretary; and sexy Vivian is on the verge of deserting her wealthy husband Henry Kirkwood and their baby in favor of a glamorous gangster. The film is also noteworthy for the number of future stars making brief appearances, such as Lyle Talbot, Edward Arnold and, in his first gangster role, Humphrey Bogart as “The Mug.”
Female (1933, 60 min)
In director Michael Curtiz's romantic comedy Female, Ruth Chatterton plays Alison Drake, the iron-fisted president of a motorcar company. Alison oversees the daily operations of her male employees with a predatory gaze and frequently exercises her right to engage with them in any way she deems fit. She meets her match in an equally strong-minded new employee, Jim Thorne (George Brent), and the two engage in a smoldering, contentious, sexually charged duel. The action of the film--one of the first to depict a female character turning a man's world to her advantage--feeds on the novelty of presenting a woman as a corporate shark and bedroom hound. Though it's obvious the filmmakers thought they were creating a scenario that would never actually happen, Alison's world-smashing exploits make the bulk of the film (before she begins to question her nontraditional lifestyle) a protofeminist romp. Brent and Chatterton were married at the time they made the film, and the natural chemistry between them is abundantly evident. Curtiz packs the screen with extravagant set design and period detail.
- Theatrical trailers
Night Nurse (1931, 72 min)
William Wellman's Night Nurse is a sassy, unsentimental comedy about a private pediatric nurse named Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) who, after applying as an apprentice in a family home, discovers there is a plot afoot to starve her two rich, fat, young charges to death. The culprit is the family’s chauffeur, Nick (Clark Gable), a villain who plans to marry the kids' dissolute mother and make off with their trust fund. It then is up to Hart, her wisecracking nurse friend Maloney (Joan Blondell), and her bootlegger beau Mortie (Ben Lyon) to save them. Director Wellman keeps the jokes humming along with the peril.
This never-before seen documentary, Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood examines the unique collision of events that resulted in one of the most dynamic – and delicious periods in Hollywood history -- a fascinating mix of scandal, big business and social history.
- Night Nurse commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta
- Night Nurse theatrical trailer