Wednesday 17 January 2007

Forbidden (1932)

It's ten past ten and Lulu Smith is late for work, for the first time in eight years. She's a respectable small town librarian, but she's feeling the influence of springtime and decides to withdraw all her considerable savings to splurge it all on a romantic cruise to Havana where nobody knows her. She takes off her glasses and puts on an expensive dress and finds inebriated lawyer Bob Grover in her room because he'd mistaken 66 for 99. They hit it off like crazy and suddenly the trip is over and Lulu has mysteriously become a newspaper clippings librarian getting proposed to by a coworker. She just wants Bob, of course, but when she finds out that he's a married man who won't leave his wife and so drops him like a hot potato.

It becomes quickly obvious that this is a precode, but when we discover that Lulu is pregnant it's beyond any shadow of doubt. Yet it's directed by an unlikely candidate for such dangerous things: Frank Capra, so early that he still has an R in the middle of his name. Yes, this ardent proponent of American family values, who fashioned the dark alternate Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life into a town that stoops so low as to have girls doing the jitterbug with paying clients, gives us, as both writer and director, a love story between an unmarried mother and a District Attorney who cheats on his crippled wife, fathers a daughter out of wedlock, only to get her back through a fake adoption with the real mother as a fake nanny. It's hardly something the moral majority would overlook and there's no way on earth it would even be considered after the code kicked in. I wonder if he just saw it as a challenge.

Lulu Smith is played by Barbara Stanwyck, and of course she's perfect for any sort of dubious moral situation. She was a strong woman who could get away with ordering any guy around, yet somehow remains believable as a submissive woman who just can't say no to her man. She's great here but that's not surprising in the slightest. The direction Capra takes means that she also gets to show off her talent of playing any age she felt like: she's a very young woman when the film starts but we watch her daughter grow up and get engaged so you can imagine how old she has to start looking. She does it all as well as you'd expect. Adolphe Menjou deliberately plays Bob Grover as a background character for much of the film and tones his talents down admirably so as not to compete with Stanwyck.

What isn't surprising is that Ralph Bellamy doesn't get the girl, because he probably never did in a long and distinguished career. This may be the most dynamic I've ever seen him though. He's the gung ho newspaperman who's had the hots for Lily for years, even though all of those many years seem to be 1932, but he's also fighting to bring down Grover, and he's a real gem. I just wish he had a larger part. The more I watch him the more I root for him and that's exactly why he's there. No wonder he kept getting decent billing in so many decent films.

And Capra? I still don't see how this fits in with the rest of his films, in the slightest, but it's not a bad one at all, melodramatic or not.

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