Mar 13, 2019

Pre-codes on DVD: Ginger Rogers in Professional Sweetheart (1930) and Helen Twelvetrees in Unashamed (1932)

There's nothing more welcome on my doorstep (apologies to my cats) than a package of pre-code films. Here's a pair of new releases from Warner Archive that I recently viewed:

Professional Sweetheart (1930)

This lively romantic comedy catches Ginger Rogers before musical fame, but already in the full bloom of her charms. She’s plays a radio star with a spotless image, called the “purity girl,” but desperate to cut a rug in Harlem and dropkick her reputation for a little fun.

In order to convince her to sign a new contract, the radio station suits allow her to pick a boyfriend from the bulging files full of the love letters and photographs she receives from her fans. The handsome, but dull Norman Foster is the winning pick. Rogers is pleased, and despite initial misgivings doesn’t even mind him whisking her off to the country to take care of his modest home, but the call of stardom is powerful as long as there is a radio in the corner of the living room.

She hears her maid (Theresa Harris) filling her position on-air and doing a little too well in the role at that. Seeing the always charming Harris shed her maid's uniform for an evening gown and a place in front of the microphone was one of the highlights of the film for me. Unfortunately, her scenes as a star were brief and it is never explained what happens to her when Rogers returns to claim her crown.

Though Rogers’ scrappy, but sparkling singing voice was one of the most charming aspects of her persona, here I was alarmed to find she was dubbed by the talented, but more operatic Etta Moten. It took some getting used to, though it wasn’t unpleasant.

Rogers is surrounded by some of the best of the Warner Bros contract players; they’re the people that make you grin when they pop up in a scene. There’s Zasu Pitts as a half prim/half randy lady rag journalist, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, and Gregory Ratoff prancing through their shtick as radio executives, and then dear, bland Foster justifying his presence with a strong jaw.

It’s the kind of Warner’s pre-code production where the racy stuff is inserted in lightning-fast moments and everyone knows exactly how to keep the action moving. Not a classic, but a very good time.

Unashamed (1932)

Fans of Helen Twelvetrees will find little to surprise them in Unashamed. This murder-courtroom melodrama has the gowns, plucked eyebrows, and romance-gone-wrong that were firmly in the actress’s wheelhouse. Costarring Robert Young in his adorable young man phase, Lewis Stone, and Jean Hersholt, it is a production meant to reassure more than tread new ground.

Twelvetrees is wealthy young Joan, devoted sister to her brother Dick (Young), affectionate daughter to her father (Robert Warwick), and poor romantic decision-maker all on her own. She falls under the spell of cash poor polo player Harry (Monroe Owsley) and doesn’t see him placing her into a trap via sexual scandal until it is too late.

Dick defends his sister's honor in a heated confrontation that ends in him killing the sleazy homme fatale. Still blind to her lover’s faults, Joan refuses to stand up for her brother in court. Of course she eventually bows to family bonds, whatever the sacrifice, in the end.

This unremarkable, but smoothly assembled production is best recommended for fans of Twelvetrees and Young.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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