One of the most interesting eras in American cinema is the pre-code period of 1929-1934 before the Production code enforced a series of censorship restrictions that limited some areas of creativity. The early talkies from this period have a discernible edge, a grittiness that defines the era.
In their third collection of pre-code features from the vaults of Warner Brothers and MGM studios, Warner Home Video has offered another strong collection.
It should first be noted that each of the films are directed by William Wellman, best known for such classics as Public Enemy (1931), Call of the Wild (1935), and The Ox Bow Incident (1943).
The real jewel on this set is Other Men’s Women (1931), featuring James Cagney as a supporting actor, pre-Public Enemy and overnight stardom. Cagney’s inimitable charisma is so strong, his supporting role becomes the center of attention in this love triangle involving characters played by Grant Withers, Regis Toomey, and Mary Astor. Joan Blondell, in another supporting role, assists Cagney in handily stealing the film.
Heroes for Sale (1933) is a disturbing portrait of a disenchanted World War one vet, one of Hemingway’s fabled Lost Generation, who returns home addicted to morphine and unable to sustain the rigors of daily life. Wild Boys of the Road (1933) is a violent, exciting portrait of runaway youth whose lives include empty train cars and alley camps that serve as their own egalitarian societies.
The remaining three titles; Frisco Jenny (1932), The Purchase Price (1932), and Midnight Mary (1933) represent what might have been referred to as “women’s pictures” at the time of their initial release, but their pre-code status also means they deal with brothels, murder, and other such classically gritty elements.
Extras include two documentaries on Wellman, and a wealth of cartoons, short subjects, and coming attractions trailers, typical for Warner Home Video releases. Commentaries on some of the films enhance our appreciation.
Films of this period crackle with sharp dialogue, explode with emotional melodrama, and bristle with indefatigable charisma. This volume of pre-code Forbidden Hollywood dramas is most certainly recommended.