Pre-Code, Gladiators, Rod Taylor on Tap from Warner Archive

The Bad Ol’ Days: Warner Archive has gone again to their vaults to bring us the worst—the worst in human behavior in the movies from the pre-Code days. Two collections featuring top stars where behaving badly—committing crimes, getting into trouble, having pre-marital sex, drinking too much—is the name of the game.

In Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 4, Jewel Robbery (1932) features Kay Francis as a married, bored Austrian countess enmeshed with charming gem thief William Powell in Vienna. Then, in Lawyer Man (1932), Powell is a Lower East Side attorney who uses and abuses practicing law, but learns his lesson when he gets attached to a shady woman. Joan Blondell is his trusted secretary.  Man Wanted (1932) boasts Kay Francis as a married magazine editor who falls for her new male assistant (David Manners), much to the chagrin of his fiancée.  They Call It Sin (1932) stars Loretta Young as a girl from the Midwest whose journey to NYC in search of a music career leads her to a choice of romance between playboy David Manners, theatrical producer Louis Calhern, and doctor George Brent. 

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 5 showcases Hard to Handle (1933), with James Cagney as a promoter rigging a dance marathon so girlfriend Mary Brian will win;  Ladies They Talk About  (1933), starring Barbara Stanwyck as a tough gun-toting moll sent up the river by D.A. (and former lover) Preston Foster; The Mind Reader (1933), offering Warren William as a  phony psychic who learns the error of his ways when he falls for trusting assistant Constance Cummings; and Miss Pinkerton (1932), spotlighting Joan Blondell as  a private nurse and aspiring sleuth who gets retained by an elderly invalid with a creepy home that becomes plagued by serial slayings.

Gladiator Movies Galore: Fans of sandals, togas and swords will have a field day with a quartet of releases from the Warner Archives who are dusting off the sand to put out a quartet of gladiator goodies.

First, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses (1963), a teaming of three muscular superheroes, released after the international successes of Hercules and Hercules Unchained. Original Herc Steve Reeves is replaced by former gondolier Kirk Morris, while Samson is essayed by Iranian actor Ilosh Khoshabe and mighty Enzo Ceriusico plays Ulysses. The story has the three sinewy strongmen seeking a sea serpent.

The Slave (1962) has American Steve Reeves in the lead, playing a Roman centurion who discovers that he is, in fact, the son of slave leader Spartacus. Using his father’s sword and helmet, Reeves battles the evil Crassus and fights for what’s right. This action-packed Italian spectacle was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who went on to make such spaghetti westerns as Django and The Great Silence.

Gold for the Caesars (1963) stars blue-eyed American actor Jeffrey Hunter as an enslaved architect who gets cozy with the slave girlfriend of a Roman leader and receives an assignment to retrieve gold from the enemy Spanish Celts (?!) in order to help throw an election.  Action abounds in this sword-wielding saga of vengeance and tyranny.

The Tartars (1961) is set in the Russian steppes, and this European production partially helmed by MGM adventure specialist Richard Thorpe (Knights of the Round Table) stars Victor Mature as a Viking leader who battles Tartars led by Orson Welles in a bloody confrontation.

Taylor Pork Roles: We’d like to think our retrospective on Aussie actor Rod Taylor has something to do with the deluge of Taylor titles on the way from Warner Archives. We’re thrilled that the sturdy star of Dark of the Sun and The Time Machine is finally getting his day on DVD. The release batch includes:

The Liquidator (1966): A sharp spy spoof issued in the wake of the James Bond frenzy with Rod as an ex-soldier recruited for British intelligence by his former military pal. The reluctant agent really has no interest in spying, so he enlists someone to take his place. Trevor Howard and Jill St. John also star in this film helmed by Jack Cardiff (Dark of the Sun).

Young Cassidy (1965): The life and times of writer Sean O’Casey (Taylor) from his early days fighting for Ireland’s independence from England, his romantic liaisons (with Julie Christie and Maggie Smith) and his literary triumphs. Cardiff finished helming the film when John Ford became ill.

Seven Seas to Calais (1963): Rod plays Sir Francis Drake in this international production centering on the adventurers exploits against Spain for England in the name of Queen Elizabeth I (Irene Worth). Rudolph Mate (The 300 Spartans) co-directs.

Designer Genes: It’s understandable that everybody associates Gene Kelly with the memorable MGM musicals on his resume, but that’s been so much the case that the versatile performer’s efforts that didn’t require a song or dance tend to get overlooked. Warner Archive is going to remedy that, as a half-dozen diverse projects from Gene’s portfolio are about to get Kelly-greenlit for their home video debut, just in time for Kelly’s centenary this August. On their way are Pilot # 5 (1943), The Cross of Lorraine (1943), The Devil Makes Three (1952), Black Hand (1950), Crest of the Wave (1954) and The Happy Road (1957).

Odds and Ends from the Archive: Hitting as we speak is a selection of moody WB melodramas deftly directed by atmospheric master Jean Negulesco. Here’s your six degrees segue: Paul Henreid and Hedy Lamarr are joined by Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in The Conspirators (1944); Lorre and Greenstreet team with Geraldine Fitzgerald in Three Strangers (1946); and Fitzgerald stars opposite John Garfield in Nobody Lives Forever (1946)…In the near future: The Hanging Tree (1959), one of Gary Cooper’s last projects, with George C. Scott and Karl Malden; Glenn Ford headlines the western The Last Challenge (1967) and the drama The Doctor and the Girl (1949); and Robert Stack takes the title role of the naval hero in the epic biopic John Paul Jones (1959).