FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD, VOLUME 8

               

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014

TCM (Turner Classic Movies) issued the first three "Forbidden Hollywood" DVD sets between 2006 and 2009, collections of major studio films with racy themes or questionable moral messages or graphic gangland violence or suggestive innuendo before the industry's censorship arm  —the Production Code — kicked in.

The Code had been around awhile, suggesting that movies stay away from graphic violence, foul language, sexual themes, negative images of family or clergy, etc. But it wasn't enforced until late 1934, after which the industry's seal of approval was withheld from films didn't comply. Hence the two decades of squeaky-clean films from 1934 to the mid-1950s.

Of course, even the raciest of these films seems quaint tame compared to 21st century cinema (and television) — but at the time some of these films were not just frowned upon but actually brought out protesters and picket lines.

After TCM's third volume, it appeared that was the end of the DVD series until the manufacture-on-demand site Warner Archive picked up the "Forbidden Hollywood" franchise with "Volume 4" in 2012.

We're now up to "Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 8," which includes three films on home video for the first time and one making its DVD debut after being out of print since a 1998 VHS release.

James Cagney, Joan Blondell; Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery

The latter is an energetic James Cagney comedy — released the same year as his starmaking role in "The Public Enemy." "Blonde Crazy" (1931) casts Cagney as an ambitious bellhop who moonlights as a con man, bent on fleecing other crooks. He eventually enlists a new chambermaid (the vivacious Joan Blondell) and an up-and-down affair begins. Ray Milland has a supporting role and the film's ending is rather odd, but most of the way it's a lot of fun.

"Strangers May Kiss" (1931) is an against-type vehicle for Norma Shearer as a flighty playgirl flitting through Europe after an affair ends badly, ultimately learning that the lifestyle she has chosen will never allow her to find true happiness. Milland is here, too, in a bit part.

Glenda Farrell, Paul Muni; at center, Edward G. Robinson

"Hi, Nellie!" (1934) is another against-type vehicle, this time for Paul Muni, who would more often be seen under heavy makeup for stern dramatic roles. This film has its serious moments but is mostly a broad comedy, one of those rapid-fire newspaper pictures that followed "The Front Page." Muni is a managing editor demoted to writing an advice column, freeing the former columnist (Glenda Farrell) to tackle hard news. But the column leads Muni to a big crime story, and he and Farrell make a sprightly team.

"Dark Hazard" (1934) is a serious look at gambling addiction, with Edward G. Robinson in and out of scrapes (and his marriage) because he can't control is money-losing impulses.

Some of these are better than others but all four are entertaining examples of what Hollywood got away with in the pre-Production Code early 1930s … though it's still almost entirely through innuendo.