Tag Archive: Turner Classic Movies′ Forbidden Hollywood


Review by C.J. Bunce

This month, a new book examining what makes a great character also takes an in-depth look at Hollywood and film from the silent picture era to today.  It’s Turner Classic Movies/TCM′s latest book on film, Dynamic Dames: 50 Leading Ladies Who Made History I previously reviewed film historian Sloan De Forest′s Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World here at borg, a fun read and a fun list that is more a celebration of pop culture than film school companion.  De Forest seems to have far more passion for her next subject, selecting a masterful list of 50 women worth reading about–and worth seeing their films.  She also connects the dots between actors, their characters, and their personal lives in a way you’ve probably not seen before.  In one word, Dynamic Dames is brilliant.

Everyone reading anyone else’s list of 50 people of any pursuit will have quibbles along the way, but De Forest shows an impressive knowledge of film and delivers.  Not only a selection of 50 worthy actors–she doesn’t select the roles most movie critics flock to and rave about–she also finds those finer, more nuanced performances where these Dynamic Dames probably should have scored their Oscars.  She also divides the book into eight sections and finds perfect examples that exemplify each section, from Pre-Code Bad Girls, to Big Bad Mamas, Women of Mystery, and Strong Survivors.  A category not possible until more recently, Superheroines, rounds out the list, and although the performances have not had much of a chance to steep from a historical standpoint, De Forest provides solid rationale for them all.

Authors of a book like this typically will reserve a small percentage of the list for modern readers to have something to be attracted to, but that’s not the case here.  De Forest actually embraces recent films, pulling in more than 20 percent of her list from characters appearing in 21st century films.  Most of her rationale for each of these more recent actors and corresponding characters justifies their inclusion, comparable in performance, significance, and influence, to the film greats any movie buff would expect to find on this list.  She also ties in some of cinema’s–and literature’s–best women writers; it should be no surprise that many of these outstanding characters in film over the course of 92 years resulted from great women writers of the 19th and 20th century, including Charlotte Brontë, Agatha Christie, and J.K Rowling.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A leg thrown over the arm of a chair.  A monster tossing a girl into the river.  A gangster with a Tommy Gun shooting a room full of people.  A woman is expecting a baby.  A man bites a woman to drink her blood.  Actresses backstage get ready for a show.  Dancers on stage kick their legs.  “Kept” women.  Physical violence.

Rural audiences and even film goers in big cities like Chicago would label all this as “smut” or “disgraceful” back in the day.  In the realm of what is appropriate and what is not, the cinema has approached each new boundary with baby steps.  But in the Depression-era early 1930s, many previously unaccepted concepts soared onto film.  A new book takes a look at this era, now referred to by film historians as the “Pre-Code Era”–1930 to 1934–a time when the self-regulating movie industry pushed the bounds of its own rules, only to hit a wall when the public pushed back.  Turner Classic Movies′ Forbidden Hollywood takes an educational, film school-level walk through an industry fighting within itself to both make money and please an audience it would find varied widely by geography, down to the community level.  The handling of decency by the industry would have ramifications that would have an impact on generations of film creators and audiences.  The chaos and in-fights would last until July 1934, when religious groups combined to take a stand, prompting the industry to bow to their demands with the formation of the League of Decency.  That group would govern movie standards for nearly 35 years–until the ratings system would arrive in 1968.  Even real-world gangster Al Capone thought the new, 1930s era of movies was bad for kids, saying “These gang pictures–that’s terrible kid stuff.  They’re doing nothing but harm to the younger element of the country.”

Film historian Mark A. Vieira provides a scholarly examination of the studios, the directors, producers, and writers, including excerpts of decisions made and processes followed (and not followed), resulting in the promotion of the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest names: Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Mae West, Joan Crawford, Marlena Dietrich, Clara Bow, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Ward Bond, Bela Legosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney.  Looking at elements incorporated into–or scissor cut from–dozens of films, including The Divorcee, Dishonored, Grand Hotel, Dracula, A Farewell to Arms, 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Riptide, Red-Headed Woman, She Done Him Wrong, Call Her Savage, Convention City, and Frankenstein, Vieira takes an objective look at the factors that influenced all sides in determining what would be appropriate in the movies and what role movies would take in society.

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