Rupert Pupkin Speaks: WAC'd Out Sets: Forbidden Hollywood Vol.6 ""

Thursday, April 18, 2013

WAC'd Out Sets: Forbidden Hollywood Vol.6

I'm sure a lot of my readers are big fans of the Forbidden Hollywood series in general. I discovered a lot of great films via these releases., not the least of which are several beauties by William Wellman. Warner Archive continues to put out more of these sets(vols 4 & 5 came out last year and I'm sure we'll see more in the future). This set caught my eye right away with MANDALAY. Had heard a bit about it and Michael Curtiz directing made it a big curiosity. So of course that was the 1st film in the set that I watched...

MANDALAY(1934; Michael Curtiz)
One thing I love about pre-code films is that a lot of them are short. MANDALAY for example clocks in around 65 mins. It really demonstrates an obvious economy of storytelling when filmmakers can pack a lot into a short running time like this. Within the 1st 15 mins or so, Kay Francis is ditched by her lover Tony(Ricardo Cortez) for a batch of guns and left to hostess at the creepy Warner Oland(Charlie Chan himself)'s Rangoon night club. She quickly takes to the lifestyle there, but eventually longs to get out. When she does so, she meets a traumatized drunk of a doctor on the boat to Mandalay and he falls for her. Enter the ex-boyfriend...
Francis looks gorgeous here - especially in one scene where she appears in a dress that is somewhat reminiscent of Kate Capshaw's in the opening of TEMPLE OF DOOM. Seems reasonable that Spielberg might be a fan of this film.

DOWNSTAIRS(1932; Monta Bell)
The film starts with the wedding of Albert and Anna. Both are servants to 'The Baron'. Albert is the Bela Lugosi-ish head butler of the house and the Baron has been gracious enough to provide his longtime employees with a lovely ceremony. When Karl(John Gilbert), the suave new chauffeur arrives, there's trouble a brewin'. We can tell right away he has a checkered past and will soon draw an "encroachment" flag with Albert's new bride and any other ladies that get within arms length of him. Karl and Albert clash almost immediately over the code of "Upstairs" and "Downstairs". Codes? Karl has no use for them. He's a real scumbag albeit a clever, manipulative one. Something must be done!

THE WET PARADE(1932; Victor Fleming)
The evils of alcohol before and during prohibition are exhibited here via the experiences of a rich white family
Cast is billed by "The Parade (In the South)" and "The Parade (In the North)". Walter Huston, Jimmy Durante, Myrna Loy and Robert Young are northerners. The story starts with the entitled, racist southern boozers whose 'slimmer version of Colonel Sanders' patriarch can't say off the sauce. This cautionary tale doesn't quite reach the levels of REEFER MADNESS hysterics, but feels of an after school special circa the 1930s. Whole lotta drunks in this movie. Walter Huston kills it as a whiskey-soaked, sidewalk-speech spewing political pontificator. I must say it was interesting to see the night before Prohibition depicted. Just to see how there were(and must have really been) lots of folks scrambling to get their drink on one last time before the clock struck midnight. 
All kidding aside, this film goes to some darker places and I found it affecting in parts for sure. Jimmy Durante adds a much needed comic pick-me-up about halfway through. And as much as I'm sort of half-in/half-out on Robert Young, I really liked him here.

MASSACRE(1934; Alan Crosland)
I've become a real quick admirer of Richard Barthelmess. Warner Archive's seen to that. Their releases of THE LAST FLIGHT, ALIAS THE DOCTOR and several others are a great showcase for him. Barthelmess has the charisma and screen presence of at least 1 and 1/2 Tom Cruises. I'm especially fond of ALIAS THE DOCTOR, which will no doubt be among my favorite discoveries of 2013. In MASSACRE, Barthelmess plays Joe Thunder Horse, a Native American man who's become a hotshot in a traveling Wild West show. When called upon to return   his old reservation to see his sick father, he discovers there's a bit of shady business happening there. His family is being treated so poorly, he's forced to reconsider staying on to make things right. Sidney Toler(also Charlie Chan himself)is one of the fellows involved in the mistreatment and shadiness on the reservation. Story-wise, it's the(now classic) "gotta go back to the estranged homestead, but can't wait to get out of there until he realizes how bad things are and that motivates him to stay and help" kinda thing. The film is quite progressive in that it is a veritable exposé of poor conditions on Indian reservations around this time.

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