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Review: Warner Archives' 'Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 6'

Until about 1934 with the creation of the Breen Office, there was no strict enforcement of what was then known as the Production Code -- a set of guidelines established by the film industry to censor itself. This means that from about 1930 to 1934 there are a number of talking pictures that would've looked considerably different had they been produced in 1935.

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Known as "pre-code films," in today's culture most of them still wouldn't rate a PG-13.

For some time now, the indispensible Warner Archive has been releasing four-film collections of these films, and the latest, "Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 6," contains two gems and two I haven't yet seen, Victor Fleming's "The Wet Parade" (1932) and "Mandalay" (1934).

Downstairs (1932) is an extraordinarily compelling melodrama about a conniving chauffeur played by silent star in Roland Gilbert who sleeps and cons his way into a job among the wealthy elite and then uses sex to manipulate his employers and fellow servants. Gilbert, who would die a few years later from alcoholism, is an absolute revelation thanks to a nervy performance that never asks for our sympathy.

Massacre (1934) is just as good and also stars a silent star, Richard Barthelmess, as Joe Thunderhorse, a college-educated Sioux who's lost touch with his American Indian roots until the death of his father brings him back to the reservation. Joe quickly gets back in touch with who he is, though, when his perspective as an outsider opens his eyes to the way in which the government is cheating and exploiting his people -- from forcing Christianity on them to outright theft.

Both of these films are talkies, very well produced, under 80 minutes, and worth the price of the collection.

I've been a classic movie fan for 35 years now, and one of the great pleasures of being a classic movie fan is that thanks to outlets like Warner Archive, you never run out of new discoveries.


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