Loose women, tightly paced

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume One

Prior to the enforcement of the censorial Hays Code in 1934, Hollywood films were filled with salacious stories of loose women, like the three films in Turner Classic Movies’ Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume One.

If the 1931 James Whale-helmed Waterloo Bridge (sanitized and remade in 1940 with Vivien Leigh) is the least of the three films, it’s still a solid war-time romance. Mae Clarke plays a showgirl-turned-prostitute who ropes a guileless rich-boy soldier during a World War I air raid. Waterloo Bridge is unique in that the love-struck soldier’s ardor is more the prostitute’s downfall than her salvation—he’s as caught up in the fanfare of romance as he is in the fanfare of war.

Jack Conway’s 1932 Red-Headed Woman is snappier 1930s entertainment. Blonde bombshell Jean Harlow goes titian as an ambitious flirt using her sweet-ass gams to wrap rich old men around her finger. The film is energized by its quick pace and Harlow’s marvelous amorality, and also features an early example of Charles Boyer’s Gallic unction in one of his first American roles.

The real find in the collection is 1933’s Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a ruthless, Nietzsche-inspired social climber stuck in a grim coal-mining town. Prostituted by her own father, Stanwyck makes a run for New York, sleeping her way into a job and all the way up to the penthouse suite.

Baby Face is available for the first time in a recently discovered print that restores five minutes of censored footage and makes the original version look positively meek. The list of Stanwyck’s male conquests is now longer and more explicit, and her methods are sexier and more savage. She’s not goo-goo eyeing her way up the corporate ladder anymore—she’s screwing her way there.