How Low Can You Go?

Most classic movie fans are well aware of the impressive and versatile film legacy of William A. Wellman, who directed Wings (1927), the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar in the Academy’s history, as well as bona fide classics like the 1937 version of A Star is Born and the gritty WW2 drama, Battleground (1949). It has only been in recent years, however, that Wellman fans have become acquainted with the groundbreaking Pre-Code dramas he helmed in the early thirties thanks to DVD releases from the Warner Archive Collection.  Outside of occasional airings on Turner Classic movies, most of Wellman’s racy, vibrant work in the Pre-Code era had been unseen for years. But suddenly the floodgates were open and film buffs were finally able to enjoy the eyebrow-raising excesses of Night Nurse (1931), Love is a Racket (1932), Frisco Jenny (1932) and Heroes for Sale (1933), to name just a few. The diamond in the rough for my money though is Safe in Hell (1931), featuring a gutsy, no-holds-barred performance by Dorothy MacKaill. When you see this film, you can understand why the Production Code was created.

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Like Catnip for Women

David Manners (center) turns on the charm for Ann Dvorak as Ken Murray looks on in Crooner (1932).

Thanks to Warner Archives and several other distributors there have been an astonishing number of Pre-Code films made available to classic movie fans on DVD, MOD and streaming services over the years. But not every title is available and there are still some major omissions such as A Free Soul (1931) starring Norma Shearer or The Story of Temple Drake (1933) with Miriam Hopkins. There are also lesser-known oddities awaiting discovery such as Crooner (1932), which pops up occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. Directed by Lloyd Bacon, starring David Manners, Ann Dvorak and J. Carrol Naish and clocking in at a brisk 68 minutes, the film charts the rise and fall of Teddy Taylor (Manners), a struggling musician and his jazz band, Ted Taylor’s Collegiates.  Continue reading