Sunday, March 2, 2008

Thank heaven for little harlots

... for little harlots grow up to be the women of Pre-Code movies. Tuesday, March 4 sees the release of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 2, including five Pre-Code movies. In honor of this, TCM is showing all five movies starting at 8:00 PM ET on Monday.

I've seen four of the five, but since two of those four won Oscars (The Divorcée at 8:00 PM and A Free Soul at 3:45 AM Tuesday), I'd like to mention the other two. First up is Night Nurse, at 10:45 PM Monday. Barbara Stanwyck stars as nurse Lora Hart. There's not much money in working at the hospital, so she takes a job working as a nurse for two sick rich children. After examining the children, she determines that the problem is that they're deliberately being neglected! And this is being done so that they'll die, and the adults left behind can have the trust-fund money for themselves! This must have been fairly shocking stuff for 1931, as it's an idea that would be shocking even now, three-quarters of a century later. And who's responsible for this? Why, it's the chauffeur, played by a young Clark Gable before he became a star (this movie and especially A Free Soul, also from 1931, are the movies that made Gable a star). When Nurse Hart tries to inform the kids' mother of what's going on, she finds that the mother is a dissolute woman, leading a life of drinking at parties downstairs, too drunk to care about the warnings of what will happen to her children. (Or is she in on the plot?) The cast also includes Joan Blondell as Stanwyck's fellow nurse, and early 1930s Warner's stalwart Ben Lyon as a small-time bootlegger to whom Stanwyck and Blondell minister under the table, and who eventually comes back to save the day for Stanwyck. In addition to the adult subject material, watch for a pre-Code scene of Stanwyck and Blondell changing their clothes in the hospital changing room, showing off their 1930s undergarments.

Night Nurse will be followed at midnight on Tuesday (that's 9:00 PM Monday out on the Pacific coast) by Three on a Match. Early 1930's Warner's leading lady Ann Dvorak stars at Vivian Revere, one of three women who were friends in school a decade earlier. Each of them has gone her own way, but by chance, they meet at a restaurant one day and bring each other up to date on what's happened in the intervening years. Mary Keaton (played by the aforementioned Joan Blondell) led a bit of a wild life, spending time in reform school and becoming a nightclub singer; Ruth Westcott (played by Bette Davis in an early supporting role before she became a star with Of Human Bondage) is an eminently practical secretary; and Revere has married a wealthy man. At the restaurant, they all use the same match to light their cigarettes -- and you know the superstition about lighting "three on a match".... The bad luck this brings is that Vivian has gotten bored with the life of an idle wealthy woman. She's fallen in love with a gangster (Lyle Talbot) and is willing to leave her husband and child for him! And if that's not shocking enough, she also becomes... a dope fiend! He's gotten into some debts, so, to pay them off, he kidnaps her child for the ransom money. In addition to all this adult content, watch for one scene of Bette Davis changing her clothes and wearing just a petticoat. Also, watch for the gangsters: one of them is Humphrey Bogart, in a bit part even before The Petrified Forest pushed him onto the B-list.

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