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Here comes more pre-Code

As we've stated here several times before, there's been a welcome revival of interest in films of the pre-Code era (defined as 1929, the year talking pictures came to the forefront, to mid-1934). And in about a month and a half, you'll be able to see more examples of this era on DVD, specifically seven films from...



Don't thank Paramount Home Video for this, but Universal, which owns rights to most of the pre-1948 Paramount film catalog.



This collection of six films will be out April 7.

None of these titles include Carole Lombard, not really surprising considering her pre-Code output at Paramount wasn't all that outstanding. (Her best-known Paramount pre-Code, "No Man Of Her Own" with Clark Gable, has already been issued on DVD.) However, she was initially cast in one of these films, the romantic comedy "Hot Saturday" from late 1932. She wasn't too keen on the role, though, as she deemed it rather slight. But rather than rebel against the studio -- which she had occasionally done in the past -- she decided to relent. As it turned out, Miriam Hopkins balked at her next assignment, due to billing, and Carole took her place...in "No Man Of Her Own."

As a result, Lombard missed out on working opposite Cary Grant in his first lead role (though it would be nearly half a decade before Grant solidified himself as a comedic lead). Instead, that leading lady distinction went to an actress whose star was descending as Grant's was rising -- Nancy Carroll. When Lombard arrived at Paramount in the spring of 1930, Carroll, a lively redhead, was the studio's top actress. But tastes changed and her career declined. (That's her with Randolph Scott on the cover of the forthcoming set.)



The other five films in the set are:

* "Search For Beauty" (1934) -- Future Flash Gordon Buster Crabbe and future director Ida Lupino star as athletes who discover they are being exploited by two con men. This was Lupino's American debut, a few months after Paramount actually considered casting her as the title character in "Alice In Wonderland." (That would've been one sexy Alice!) Toby Wing, everyone's favorite 1930s chorine, plays Ida's sister.

* "Murder At The Vanities" (1934) -- Directed by Mitchell Leisen, one of Lombard's favorites, this romp includes Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle, Duke Ellington's orchestra, blood dripping from a showgirl's breast, and a paean to marijuana (at the time, still a legal substance). No wonder that some three decades later, this became a favorite on college campuses.

* "The Cheat" (1931) -- Tallulah Bankhead was better known for her stage (and later, radio) work than for her films, but this provides an example of her early appeal, playing a wife who'll do just about anything to pay off her debts...even selling her services to a wealthy businessman.

* "Merrily We Go To Hell" (1932) -- Can the film live up to its title? Stars Fredric March as an abusive alcoholic who infuriates wife Sylvia Sidney when he hooks up with a woman from his past.

* "Torch Singer" (1933) -- Mick LaSalle of "Complicated Women" fame calls this Claudette Colbert's most overlooked performance, and I largely concur. She plays the title character, who leads two lives -- a nightclub singer by night, a children's radio hostess by day. What's more, she has an illegitimate daughter whom she gave up for adoption.

Speaking of Colbert, on the same day, Universal will release another of her pre-Code gems, a film far better known than "Torch Singer":



Yes, "Cleopatra," which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. In addition to the remastered film, the three-disc package will include featurettes on Colbert and director Cecil B. DeMille and a documentary on the pre-Code era (which will also appear in the pre-Code set).

Universal has often been accused of not fully exploiting its classic-era catalog (although three years ago, it issued inexpensive, two-disc "glamour collection" sets of Lombard, Marlene Dietrich and Mae West). If this does well, it may do some further mining. .which might include some Lombard titles. So if you're interested, show your support. For more information, go to http://homevideo.universalstudios.com/, and I'm sure many retailers -- both online and the brick-and-mortar variety -- will stock these titles as well.
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