I’ve been in a Kay Francis and George Brent phase lately. This usually warrants long periods of Forbidden Hollywood film watching. So I realized it was about time to make this list. AnnStj and I watch these films a lot, mainly because it’s terribly intriguing to see what people put in films before censorship. Lots of boundaries were crossed, and these were the actresses that crossed them.
Pretty much the Queen of Forbidden Hollywood, Barbara is mostly known for films like Night Nurse where she goes up the strong arm of Clark Gable as she tries to make a living as a nurse alongside Joan Blondell. In Baby Face she sweet talks George Brent ( one of our favorite men) all the way up the corporate ladder. In The Purchase Price she leaves the showgirl life to becomes a farmers wife to get away from the bad guys. No matter what the trouble, Barbara mastered the tough girl image. She played characters that were bold, sassy and resourceful. Definitely one of our favorite screen goddesses.
Norma has an interesting history with the golden child of MGM, husband Irving Thalberg which makes us wonder if she didn’t bring some of her forbidden hollywood allure off screen as well. Film wise, she got roles other women coveted and maybe even deserved but her high standing in the MGM family allowed for a certain liberty to be taken with awarding her roles. We love her in The Divorcee. A daring and strong complex role for Norma the lessons are poignant in this one. In A Free Soul Norma is opposite Leslie Howard struggling with the concept that men can act one way and if women act that same way they are condemned for it. As Norma often got typecast as a women standing by her principles we could guess how this one ends.
Nothing beats Female as THE pre-code film showing a strong woman in the role of a man. Determined to woo George Brent in this film Ruth has to stop all her usual tricks because apparently men like to do the chasing. Frisco Jenny, Charming Sinners and The Lady of Scandal are others where Ruth dominates the screen as a strong woman. Ruth has a large catalog of work Pre-1932 that have yet to be put on dvd so we’re patiently waiting for some of her earlier films to be released.
Our favorite wholesome little catholic girl Loretta Young is probably best known for her affair with Clark Gable and her Pre-Code work. Before ascending to sainthood status in The Bishops Wife, she played a crook in Midnight Mary, and a woman playing two men in They Call it Sin. We love her as the unwilling new bride in Employees Entrance opposite bad boy Warren William. And if you get through the down and dirty pre-code flicks Loretta has a lovely, cleaner, lineup of flicks with Tyrone Power that are some of our favorites.
We love Joan Blondell. She’s fun and flirty and usually bringing a voice of reason to the table. Pretty famous for her bathtub scene in Blonde Crazy with James Cagney, Three on a Match with Warren William, the Gangster film The Public Enemy and Footlight Parade, Joan has a lot of forbidden Hollywood films to her credit. I usually like her best opposite Warren William in Smarty, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Goodbye Again.
Once the highest paid actress in Hollywood Kay Francis ( at 115k/ year compared to Bette Davis at 18k/year) was done in by her own success, quickly becoming too expensive for the studio to afford. She did however master some excellent early films at Paramount before getting moved to Warner Bors. and into films that would no longer warrant her high pay. We like her best opposite Herbert Marshall in Trouble in Paradise, William Powell in Jewel Robbery and Joel McCrea in Girls about Town. Beautiful, witty and just so lovely to watch she is a favorite. Check out One Way Passage if you want a film that transports you to the glam of a cruise ship travelling back to America, little does she know her favorite travel companion, William Powell, will get picked up for murder when they arrive back in the US.
Platinum Blonde is classic Pre-Code, and Jean’s signature film from the forbidden days. If you’re going to dive into Jean’s films we’d suggest Red Dust first. It’s Red Dust that pairs her with Clark Gable and gives her an opening scene involving taking a bath in a wooden barrel on the front porch. Red Dust is also referenced in her later film Bombshell. For a classic pre-code story line check out Red Headed Woman to witness her homewrecker ways and how she means to achieve financial success.
We know this isn’t the comprehensive list of Forbidden Hollywood ladies, but wanted to share some of our favorites. Who do you love? Let us know we’ll be sure to add them up to the next lineup.