Written by: Carroll Jenkins on July 15th, 2012
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1931, 1932
Directors: George B. Seitz, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Buzzell, William Beaudine, Nick Grinde
Cast: Laura La Plante, John Wayne, Barbara Stanwyck, Ricardo Cortez, Carole Lombard, Pat O’Brien, Ward Bond, Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke, Regis Toomey, Zasu Pitts
DVD released: July 2nd, 2012
Approximate running time: 348 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital mono English
DVD Release: TCM / Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $49.99
This collection of risqué dramas from 1931 and ’32 contains five feature films from Columbia pictures. The big names here are Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck (twice), Carole Lombarde, and John Wayne.
Three Wise Girls (1932) A must-have for Harlow fans. This falls between her early supporting roles where her performances were somewhat self-conscious and awkward and her soon-to-come star period. An example of the former would be her appearance in Public Enemy, but also appearing there and here is Mae Clarke in one of her best roles. Mae is the adulterous and glamorous kept woman, though she does have a real job as a fashion model. When Harlow leaves her small town soda fountain for the big city, she eventually lands in the modeling agency with her home town friend. The third wise girl is Harlow’s chubby roommate in the city who ends up romantically involved with the ‘Big Boy’ chauffeur played by Andy Devine. It’s a striking transition from Marie Prevost’s sexy goldigger character in The Racket (1928) to a comic relief role here. Both she and Jean have machine gun dialog that keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. The performances of each of the Three Wise Girls make this an enjoyable and memorable pre-code drama.
Ten Cents a Dance (1931) Barbara starts off as a street-wise and cynical hostess at the dime-a-dance joint. She spurns the advances of rich suitor Ricardo Cortez for the love of an under achieving college boy with a huge chip on his shoulder. As the story unfolds It turns out Barbara has a heart of gold beneath the tough exterior. Certainly not as salacious as the pre-release version of Baby Face, but there are still zingers to be found, such as a hostess asking a customer if he wants some ‘private lessons’. Ricardo’s screen time is on the brief side, but not Stanwyck’s as she gives a powerhouse performance.
Virtue (1932) Carole Lombard is run outta New York for prostitution. Being rather stubborn she jumps train, then meets and marries a stubborn, self-centered, and self-righteous taxi driver. This part is perfectly played by Pat O’Brien, a cinch since he always comes across that way even in later roles as a priest or other symbol of piety and/or authority. Carole Lombard is imminently enjoyable in this role as the bad girl gone good, but even so Ward Bond and Mayo Methot nearly steal the show. Speaking of stealing the show, the pre-credits scene consists of a black screen behind the soundtrack due to the courtroom visuals having been judged, convicted, and banished to oblivion.
Shopworn (1932) Barbara is back, but in a sanitized print from the heavily edited 1938 re-release. Most obvious is a newspaper headline that speaks to a fatal fall in a divorce raid, but the entire incident is completely absent. They even had to redo the title cards as some actors’ roles were completely shorn. It’s really too bad that the ‘spice’ is gone, as that would go a long way in lifting this film from being a Peyton Place soap opera. This could, in fact, have been an inspiration / template for the latter. The most interesting aspect that’s left is watching Clara Blandick as the world’s most possessive / conniving / scheming mother. It’s like watching Auntie Em (whom she played) portray the Wicked Witch of the West.
Arizona (1931) John Wayne still gets to ride a horse occasionally once he’s stationed in Arizona, and there’s plenty of time to romance the sweet young Bobbie. June Clyde is effervescent (and bounces up and down a lot) as the excitable and emotional Bobbie. But Wayne is partially dating her to get back at her sister, who married his mentor, because he broke off an affair with her because she loved him but he didn’t love her. Dramatics ensue amidst the stock footage of drill teams, football games, and airplanes.
The good news is five (5) movies on five (5) pressed discs. All appeared remastered, and most look exceptional – especially the films from the later re-release (chopped to pieces) prints. Apart from the edits the bad news is the lack of subtitles and/or closed captioning. The packaging is innovative, no doubt, but a little weird and looks somewhat fragile. The folder contains one traditional hub trap, but the other four discs are contained in a rather strange spring / catch contrivance that takes a minute to figure out. But just slide the disc down towards the impressed ‘springs’ to clear the catches and remove. Extras present for each feature include scene stills, promotional still, movie posters, and lobby cards. A still for Three Wise Girls is particularly interesting because the love triangle depicted never happened; someone had the girls switch places, as a joke?
These films are all predominately romantic dramas with just enough of a dollop of genre (vice, crime, violence) to make it interesting for guys as well. Featuring some of the best talent of the period, you cannot go wrong with this set. But since when was John Wayne a working girl? Okay, I guess Marion Morrison does sound like a girls name.