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Case Number 25615: Small Claims Court

Buy Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 6 at Amazon

Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 6

Downstairs
1932 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
The Wet Parade
1932 // 118 Minutes // Not Rated
Mandalay
1934 // 65 Minutes // Not Rated
Massacre
1934 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 6th, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan notes that before the Hays Code, films were shot in the Morse Code.

The Charge

Four rarely seen gems from the pre-Code era

The Case

Hopefully for the sixth time out this series doesn't need much rehearsal, but for those just joining us, Hollywood was under threat in the '20s from all kinds of groups looking to curb the influences of Hollywood on the vulnerable American public. Whether the movies promoted alcohol, adultery, or not going to church, it seemed that everybody had a bone to pick with the movies. To stave off Congressional oversight, Hollywood agreed to censor itself out of the infamous Hays office. Between the establishment of the Code and its strict enforcement (roughly 1930-1934), though, a number of films were released in increasingly scandalous forms. Long neglected, these films have been seeing release in various "archival" formats. This Warner Archive Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 6 collects another four pre-Code films that will likely appeal to fans of the era.

This set includes four films, two from 1932 and two from 1934:

• The Wet Parade—Based on an Upton Sinclair novel, this film follows two families as excessive alcohol consumption ruins their lives.

• Downstairs—A conniving chauffeur uses sex and blackmail to rule the house of a pair of newlyweds.

• Mandalay—Kay Francis plays a refugee who tries to get revenge on the man who sold her into slavery aboard a steamer to Mandalay.

• Massacre—Richard Barthelmess plays a college-educated Native American who decides to use his education to get revenge against the white officials who wronged his people.

I'm not gonna lie; I'm not always the biggest fans of films from this era. Everything is very different from the film's we're used to today—acting styles, camera movements, the lack of color—and I don't find that most films are worth the trouble of getting past the differences. However, this Forbidden Hollywood collection is an interesting artifact that drives home a number of points about the pre-Code era that didn't really sink in until I'd seen these films collected.

The first is just how legit these pre-Code films are. I'm used to exploitation films from later eras, where most actors only appeared in a handful of films, and almost all of them were cheapies. If a famous actor ends up in an exploitation film, it's either the very beginning or the very end of their career. In the pre-Code era of Hollywood, though, studios were making pictures that flouted the code with big names. It takes just a casual glance at the credit list for these four films to notice some titans of the Studio Era. There's Walter Huston, Kay Franceis, Myrna Loy, Hedda Hopper, and Ann Dvorak—and those are just the names that I recognize as someone with only the slightest of interests in the era.

The second thing I noticed is that there are a variety of ways to break the Code. Most collections that focus on the Code highlight the sexier elements—suggestions of nudity, adultery, or polyamory—but there were numerous ways to run afoul of the Hays office. This set definitely represents the racier elements with Downstairs and its sexual antics and blackmail. However, The Wet Parade was likely too strong for the Code due to its frank depictions of alcoholism, Mandalay suggests prostitution and possible sexual slavery, and Massacre deals with race and violence in interesting ways. Even more interesting is that even a social issue film like The Wet Parade could be objected to; the film is obviously trying to establish the dangers of alcohol, but even that could be considered a bad thing.

As a Warner Archive release, these films each get their own DVD, but have not been subject to any re-mastering. All four films suffer from some amount of damage—light speckling, the occasional scratch or line—but it's the older films that look the best. Downstairs is the least damaged, and has a sharp, well-contrasted look. The Wet Parade looks slightly worse, with a hint more damage and softness. Massacre is a bit jumpy in places and has more speckling, while Mandalay looks soft throughout. All, however, are very watchable. The mono soundtracks similarly show their age, but dialogue is clear enough. The only extra is a trailer for Massacre.

By now, you know if you're in the target demographic for the Forbidden Hollywood series. None of these films are the kind of classics that make this a must purchase for all film fans, but for those interested in the actors or the era, this set is worth the price of admission. The quality of the prints used for this set are also above average, so fans can buy with confidence.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice, Downstairs

Judgment: 81

Perp Profile, Downstairs

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 1932
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Downstairs

• None

Scales of Justice, The Wet Parade

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, The Wet Parade

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1932
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Wet Parade

• None

Scales of Justice, Mandalay

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile, Mandalay

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 65 Minutes
Release Year: 1934
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Mandalay

• None

Scales of Justice, Massacre

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, Massacre

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 1934
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Massacre

• Trailer








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