Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Barbara Takes a Vacation

Forbidden (1932) features Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu Smith, a librarian who is bored with the sameness of her life.  The townspeople set their clock by Lulu; always at work at exactly the same time. They are stunned when, one day, she is late.  For Lulu has decided to change her life - take her savings and go on a cruise to exotic Havana.  At first, her trip is a disappointment, until Robert Grover (Adolphe Menjou) literally falls into her life.  What follows is a love affair of pain and passion; their love complicated by his political ambitions.

With the emphasis on a woman who reluctantly gives up her child to its father rather than raise it herself, this film very much reminded us of Give Me Your Heart, but it doesn't end as happily.  For one thing, Lulu is being threatened by Al Holland.  For another, as kind as Robert Grover is, he is still a fairly selfish individual, and one feels that most of what he does is because of his political ambitions, not his regard for his wife (as he claims).  Regardless, Adolphe Menjou is impressive in the part. He remains sympathetic, even though you badly want to dislike him.  As we were introduced to the character, we knew there was something not quite right about his relationship with Lulu, but it wasn't immediately apparent that he was married.  Menjou plays his part carefully.  He never loses control of Robert's heart; we know that he loves Lulu, but he can never escape from his hunger for a political life. 

And then there is Ralph Bellamy playing a character (Al Holland) that is the total opposite of what you normally expect;  he even looks physically different. Al Holland is a driven, cruel man, whose only saving grace, it seems, is his love for Lulu.  However, he is constantly interfering in her life, and his intrusions often have disastrous results.  Just as Grover desires the power of political life, so too does Holland desire power.  However, Holland is power-crazed, he wants to control everyone around him.  Al hates Grover merely because Grover will not bow to him.  Holland believes that Grover "owes" him; Grover's retort is that the people elected him, not Holland.  The picture painted here of newspapermen is not a pleasant one; obviously, obnoxious newspaper reporters have been around for a long time.  
Finally, there is Stanwyck.  She is superb (but would we expect otherwise?).  Watch the scenes in the ship (and the sets used for those shipboard scenes are magnificent), when she goes to dinner alone; her loneliness is palpable (you can see part of that scene below).  Also impressive are her scenes with her baby daughter, Roberta (played with such charm and natural-ness by little Myrna Freshold. She is an adorable child.)  Much like the character in Confession, Lulu is constantly protective of her child; as in that film, we discover she will do anything to protect Roberta.  Stanwyck is also makes Lulu's love for Grover heart-breakingly real; we know she is with him because she loves him, not for what she can get out of him. 

The film has a lot of twists and turns and it never seems to go the way you expect. One expects a short story - one gets an epic, with the passage of years ably expressed via a scrapbook of the growing Roberta.  Even the character of Helen Grover (played by Dorothy Peterson) is a surprise.  As she leaves for an extended trip to Europe, she encourages Robert to have fun while she is away. Does she know he is having an affair? Is she telling him to go out and sow his wild oats?  Though the critical reception was not great, and director Frank Capra unimpressed with his film (as this article from TCM explains), we think it is worth watching, if only for the stellar performances we've discussed.

Next week, we'll be viewing another precode film, with another favorite of ours, Constance Bennett. In the meantime, enjoy Barbara's vacation in Forbidden:

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