Tuesday, 7 December 2010

When Frank met Barbara III: Forbidden (1932)

When I saw “Forbidden” for the first time, I think in the London Film Festival a few years ago, I wasn’t particularly impressed. When I saw it there again, it was second time lucky. And probably would have like it better if I hadn’t spent half of the screening trying to remember which film it remind me of – in the end I realise it was Edmund Goulding’s “The Trespasser” (1929) with Gloria Swanson which he remade in 1937 with Bette Davis as “That Certain Woman”, two examples of heavy handed melodramas. Goulding would do much better for instance in “The Old Maid” or that supreme soap-opera that is “The Great Lie”. Capra’s straight storytelling skills and lack of tendency for melodrama actually suited the script well – it tones it down, creating some pathos to the characters that otherwise would have just been sinking in excess.

These same characters, while well handled, that are also the strangest element of the film. This is the story of a librarian (Stanwyck, of course) who spends her savings on a holiday cruise to Havana. On the boat she meets and falls in love with a man (Adolph Menjou), and they start a life long affair – you see, he’s married to an “invalid” (i.e. she wears a cane…) and worst, he has political ambitions. While I have no problem empathising with characters who repress themselves out of duty (e.g. “Brief Encounter”) there is something not quite right with the leading character’s obsessive love with Menjou’s. For him, she gives up everything despite the fact he does not give her anything in return and won’t let her go (she tries a few times). In fact, he goes further, taking things from her. In part this feels like 19th Century romanticism taken to extremes, but really is more like an essay on the effects of a sudden release of sexual and emotional repression exploding in the hands the first person who releases it.

More appealing is Ralph Bellamy’s workaholic news editor with a crush on Stanwyck. His is an ambiguous character that has a personal vendetta for Menjou’s which you aren’t entirely on what is really based on (for all intents Menjou is not a corrupt politician and Stanwyck is his only skeleton in the closet).

Capra’s work throughout is almost unnoticeable, thus showing off his skills to keep the pace and retain our attention, focusing on the key moments of the relationship. It’s the script that ends up being the most unsympathetic to its own characters. After torturing Stanwyck for 80 odd minutes, the film ends in the harshest of ways. I assume the idea was not to leave a dry eye in the house, but it’s too bleak for that – you just end engulfed in the black hole that her character’s emotions have become.

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