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Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume Two

Oh, Turner Classic Movies — you can’t fool us. Sure, your DVD documentary Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood offers a respectable survey of the clash between high minds and low brows waged between 1930, when talkies hit their stride, and 1934, when the Hays Production Code was finally enforced. And your film-historian commentary tracks are interesting and illuminating. But a few educational add-ons can’t disguise that the second volume of your Forbidden Hollywood Collection is about one thing, and that’s S-E-X. These are movies about loose women in the fast lane — women like Norma Shearer, who trades in her shining goodness for lamé dressing gowns and dangerous men in The Divorcee and A Free Soul; or early-’30s star Ruth Chatterton, who plays a nifty switch on the predatory boss in director Michael Curtiz’s crisp comedy Female. If Barbara Stanwyck keeps it on the straight and narrow as the title caregiver in William Wellman’s thrillingly nasty Night Nurse, she’s just about the only one who does, in the film’s depraved world of rich dipsomaniacs and evil chauffeurs. (Even then, she has trouble keeping her clothes on.) And then there’s 3 on a Match, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell and Bette Davis as former schoolmates who reunite in adulthood for triumph and tragedy. Just a few more years, and Dvorak’s role would have gone to Davis; as it is, Dvorak does just great as a wealthy beauty who has it all and then throws it away for a life of sin and coked-up, jazz-baby abandon. Like LeRoy’s other big pre-Code pictures (Little Caesar, Gold Diggers of 1933), 3 on a Match tries to remind viewers that there’s a Depression on, but make no mistake, this is a lesson in what literally and figuratively drives the ladies crazy. (Warner Home Video; $49.92)

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