Some notes about what’s showing this week on Turner Classic Movies. The high point is Monday night, when TCM gives a free preview of their newest Forbidden Hollywood DVD collection.
But first, tonight finishes up last month’s Oscar focus with great films of the 90s.
Maverick (Sunday, 3/2, 8:00 PM ET, 1994) — A fun romp that captures the irreverence of the original con-man Western. Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner star. A little long for what it is, but enjoyable light entertainment. (Nominated for Best Costume Design.)
Next, a trip back in time. I love the way that TCM shows the movies that make up a new DVD package around the time it goes on sale. Free samples are the best way to show customers what they’re getting, especially when it comes to older, lesser-known (but still great) movies.
Forbidden Hollywood Volume 2, out Tuesday, collects five female-centered movies from the “pre-Code” era, before restrictions and ratings were imposed on what films could show. And they’re eye-opening, even though they date from 1930-1933 and are in black and white. Plus, the DVD collection adds a new documentary, “Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood” that provides context on the era, and commentaries on two of the movies by historians.
The Divorcee (Monday, 3/3, 8:00 PM ET, 1930) — The best of the bunch starts the night. Norma Shearer plays against type as an ex-wife. She’s happily married, until her husband strays. She forgives him, but when she has a similar indiscretion, his inability to accept her sends her on a lovemaking binge through Europe. It’s heady stuff for any era, tackling sexual double standards. Shearer won the Best Actress Oscar, and it was nominated for Best Picture and Director. The Code would prevent movies like this, films that showed unapologetically sexual women, from being made in future.
After a showing of the new documentary, Night Nurse (Monday, 3/3, 10:45 PM ET, 1931) airs. Barbara Stanwyck plays the title role, going through training with Joan Blondell (the woman “brassy” was invented for, and their friendship features some odd underwear scenes) and winding up trying to protect two children being starved to death. In an early role, Clark Gable plays the bad guy, a manipulative chauffeur. There’s plenty of violence, not just in action but how characters treat each other.
Three on a Match (Tuesday, 3/4, Midnight, 1932) — But this is the truly shocking one, exploring the lives of three girls once they become women. Joan Blondell again, plus very young Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak as the feature lesson, a rich girl who squanders herself in drink, drugs, and poor choices for company. I was stunned by what happens to her. Humphrey Bogart also has a small part as a gangster who makes a dope joke.
Female (Tuesday, 3/4, 1:15 AM ET, 1933) — I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’m looking forward to it, since it stars the underrated Ruth Chatterton as a female CEO. By the way, if you’re curious about any of these, most are only slightly more than an hour, so it’s not a huge investment of time to check them out.
A Free Soul (Tuesday, 3/4, 3:45 AM ET, 1931) — The evening concludes with Norma Shearer and Clark Gable again. She’s a lawyer’s daughter who falls in love with his gangster client. Lionel Barrymore won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as the lawyer.
One more note before I quit enthusing about pre-Codes. THE classic “well, I can see why the prudes wanted more rules” film airs late next Saturday.
Baby Face (Sunday, 3/9, 12:30 AM ET, 1933) — Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way to the top of a bank after starting as a teen pimped out by her bootlegging dad. It’s an amazing, powerful performance about using sex as a bargain and the conflict between the desire for security and the nature of love. The latter is complicated by our lead never having known real love and so not having any models for “right” behavior.
This movie can be found on the first Forbidden Hollywood collection, which also includes Jean Harlow’s triumph Red Headed Woman and the first Waterloo Bridge, in which a soldier’s betrothed becomes a hooker during the war. It was later remade with Vivian Leigh, but this first version is reportedly more powerful.
That’s about all I’m recommending this week. One of the month’s themes is psychiatry in the movies, which begins Tuesday night, but I’m tired of over-analyzing cinema. Buh dump ba.