A number of early 1930s films, as well as some from the 1970s and one from 1980 have been released for the first time on DVD this week. (Warner Archive titles are available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 6” (Warner Archive, 1932-34, b/w, four discs, $39.95, trailer for “Massacre”). Another quartet of pre-Production Code films, scandalous at the time more for their themes than any particularly racy content.
“The Wet Parade” (1932) is a diatribe against the evils of alcohol during Prohibition and much of it is still relevant, although it also has its broadly exaggerated moments of hysteria. Great cast includes Myrna Loy, Walter Huston, Lewis Stone, Robert Young and, as a federal agent, none other than Jimmy Durante!
“Downstairs” (1932). Logan, Utah, native John Gilbert stars as a brazen, remorseless cad who signs on as chauffeur to a wealthy family and then uses, seduces and/or blackmails every woman in the house, and not just the downstairs staff. Arguably his best sound film, it is dominated by Gilbert, who gives a startling performance that belies his reputation as a silent star that couldn’t make it in “talkies.”
“Mandalay” (1934) is a bloated melodrama about a Russian refugee stuck in Rangoon, then making her way to Mandalay, where she seeks revenge on her louse of a boyfriend. Though not a particularly believable Russian, Kay Francis kicks this one up a notch, along with some directorial flourishes by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to helm “Casablanca.”
“Massacre” (1934). Though clichéd and routine, the subject matter here makes this one worth a look as silent star Richard Barthelmess plays a college-educated American Indian who has purposely stayed away from the reservation. But when his father’s illness calls him home, he is shocked to find corruption and deplorable living conditions.
“First Family” (Warner Archive, 1980, PG, $18.95, trailer). Silly, inept farce about the U.S. president (Bob Newhart) and his wacky family (wife Madeline Kahn, daughter Gilda Radner) has a few amusing moments but mostly misfires. Sad footnote to the career of veteran screenwriter Buck Henry, who, among others, co-wrote “The Graduate” and “What’s Up, Doc?” This is also Henry’s only solo directing effort (he is credited with co-directing Warren Beatty’s “Heaven Can Wait”). Co-stars include Harvey Korman, Richard Benjamin, Rip Torn and Fred Willard, along with a cameo by Henry.
“I Will I Will For Now” (Warner Archive, 1975; R for language, innuendo; $18.95). Diane Keaton shines — but she’s the only thing that does — in this forced sex farce as the repressed ex-wife of lecherous mogul Elliott Gould (who made many movies of this type at the peak of his stardom, which may explain its rapid decline). She’s sleeping with Gould’s opera-singing attorney (Paul Sorvino, over the top) but wants to give her ex-husband another chance. Meanwhile, Elliott eyes Victoria Principal, who lives upstairs. Surprisingly coy with very little foul language, though there are lots of double-entendres.
“Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature Presentation!” (Lionsgate, 1973-77, PG-13/R for violence, sex, brief nudity, language; $14.98, three movies). There’s nothing coy about these three exploitation films, also from the 1970s, the kind of thing Tarantino often mimics. “The Mighty Peking Man” (aka “Goliathon,” 1977, PG-13) is an English-dubbed Chinese ripoff of “King Kong,” “Detroit 9000” (1973, R) is a blacksploitation ripoff of “Dirty Harry” and “Switchblade Sisters” (aka “The Jezebels,” 1975, R) is about rival high school gangs, one of them female, all played by actors easily approaching 30 (or beyond).