The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon: Forbidden (1932)

If you’re at all familiar with my posts on this site, you probably know that I usually end them by recommending that you see the movie on which I’m writing, adding that you “only owe it to yourself.”

Well, this time, I’m starting my post that way.

Have you seen Forbidden? It’s a 1932 Barbara Stanwyck starrer, directed by Frank Capra and co-starring Adolphe Menjou and Ralph Bellamy. If you haven’t, you simply must get your hands on a copy. If you like Barbara Stanwyck, pre-Code, Frank Capra, melodramas, women’s pics, or just motion pictures in general, you’ve got to see this movie.

You only owe it to yourself.

Forbidden, to me, is like Back Street meets Stella Dallas, with a hint of Now, Voyager thrown in for good measure, and just a splash of The Letter. Stanwyck stars as Lulu Smith, a librarian who decides to do something that many of us wish we could do – empty her savings account to take an awesome vacation. On her trip, she meets a charming attorney by the name of Bob Grover (Menjou), and by the end of the trip, they’ve fallen in love. I don’t think I’m spoiling too much when I tell you it turns out that Bob is quite married. But that’s all I’m saying. I’d love to tell you more about the plot (I mean, I’d REALLY love to tell you), but I am counting on you doing your part and – as discussed above – getting your hands on a copy, and I don’t want to ruin a single moment for you.

Instead, I’ll talk about a few of my favorite scenes, each which are highlighted by the standout performance of Barbara Stanwyck. The first is her opening scene, in which we are introduced to the fiery and passionate nature lurking just under the surface of Lulu’s rather “plain Jane” façade. Coming in to work 10 minutes late, and chided for her tardiness by her senior-citizen co-workers, Lulu goes completely off: “I wish I owned this library,” she says, starting out relatively calm before rising to a fever pitch, “because I’d get an axe and smash it to a million pieces. Then I’d set fire to the whole town and play a ukulele while it burned!” Seconds later, Lulu is reviewing her bank balance and making her plans to catch the first ship headed for Havana.

Lulu went from Plain Jane to Bling-ed out Babe.

Lulu went from Plain Jane to Bling-ed out Babe.

Another exceptional scene takes place aboard the cruise ship. Lulu – who’s sporting a new ‘do, has ditched her unflattering specs, and is dressed to the nines – pluckily pays a solo visit to the main dining room, where seemingly everyone, from the maître ‘d to the boys in the band, notices that she is alone. Lulu does the walk of shame to her table, where she sits by herself, trying not to look as uncomfortable as she feels. Finally, from across the room, it appears that she’s attracted the admiring attention of a handsome fellow passenger. When he indicates that he’s coming over, Lulu tries mightily to mask her anticipation – but it quickly turns to disappointment when she learns that the object of her would-be caller is seated at the table next to hers. In the few seconds that follow, and just before she flees the room, Stanwyck manages to convey not only humiliation, but loneliness, sorrow and longing as well.

Those masks!

Those masks!

And then there’s my favorite scene – the one where Bob reveals to Lulu that he’s married. The first part of the scene is rather odd – in fact, it’s the only thing I remembered about seeing this film the first time around.  As the scene begins, Lulu is cooking dinner in preparation for Bob’s imminent arrival. When he rings the doorbell, Lulu opens the little door-peeper thing (I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the name of this device) and in pops the long nose of a mask. It’s Bob, announcing that he’s the census taker (to which Lulu jokingly responds that she “lost her census long ago!” Heh.) Anyway, Bob has brought a mask for Lulu and the two of them spend the next 10 minutes horsing around, playacting, smooching, talking baby talk, and tickling each other. It’s kinda weird. (Riveting – I promise you, you won’t be able to look away – but kinda weird.) Eventually, though playtime is over, and the masks come off – and Bob comes clean about his marital situation (as well as his real name, for that matter). Explaining that his wife is an invalid and that divorce is “out of the question,” Bob nobly informs Lulu that their relationship must end, telling her, “I can’t offer you marriage, and I won’t offer you anything else.” And that’s when the scene kicks into high gear. Lulu’s first reaction is to beg Bob not to leave her, even offering to pretend that his wife doesn’t exist. But her pride won’t allow her to stick to that approach for long. Her sorrowful, desperate hysteria turns instead to sheer fury and she literally throws his hat and coat at him before tossing him out the door: “Go home to your wife. You say you want to do the right thing – well, why don’t you? You’re using a lot of high words, but what do they all amount to? You’ve had your fun and you’re fed up. That’s all right with me – get out!” As with the previous two scenes I noted, Stanwyck is sheer perfection, emitting emotions that practically reach through the screen and grab you off the couch. She’s simply awesome.

And that’s all I’m going to say about the brilliant Barbara Stanwyck and Forbidden – except that the chemistry between Stanwyck and Adolphe Menjou was quite mesmerizing, and that Ralph Bellamy (whose character carries a torch for LuLu – and who, for some reason, has some weird black makeup around his eyes) plays a role here unlike any I’ve ever seen him offer.

Oh, and one more thing – Forbidden is part of the five-film Frank Capra: The Early Collection. It’s also available for purchase as a single disc at  EMoviez (emoviez.ecrater.com) and Loving the Classics (lovingtheclassics.com), and it airs from time to time on TCM. So get a copy!

I don’t care where you get it – just get it.

You already know why.

This post is part of the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Aubyn over at The Girl With the White Parasol.

Do yourself a favor and click the photo to the right to check out the wealth of great posts being offered as part of this fantastic week-long event! 

~ by shadowsandsatin on July 20, 2013.

25 Responses to “The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon: Forbidden (1932)”

  1. When I first saw “Forbidden” I was in the mood for a good soaper, but ended up being more impressed by Frank Capra’s innate sense of movie storytelling. There’s something special about watching people work who really know their stuff.

    • I like how you put that, CW — you are so right about the joy of watching directors and actors/actresses who possess the talent and know what to do with it!

  2. Oh gosh I think I’ll watch this one today! Sad to admit that I haven’t seen every single Stanny film. But you make ‘Forbidden’ sound so mesmerizing- I can’t wait to see the scene with the masks. And from how you describe the plot there is a bit of Now, Voyager it seems- I’ll let you know what I think. Wonderful piece… thanks for turning me onto another film I just need to see-Cheers Joey

  3. This sounds fantastic! You’re right – I DO owe it to myself.🙂

    I bet Stanwyck and Menjou are magic together. There’s nothing better than two skilled actors playing off each other.

    I really enjoyed your post, Karen. Well done!

    • Thanks, Ruth! And you’re right about Stanwyck and Menjou. It was especially striking to me because I don’t usually think of Adolphe Menjou as an actor – he was more of a personality to me, you know what I mean? But in this one, he really brought it!

  4. I really enjoyed this movie. I like early Capra before he started making “Capra Corn” movies, which I can barely stand to watch.
    “The Miracle Woman”, realeased just before this “Forbidden” is also excellent, and the two films make a good Stanwyck double bill.

    • Hi, Muriel! I love all of Capra’s stuff, but like you, I’m especially fond of his earlier work. It’s funny — The Miracle Woman is on the same tape as Forbidden, but I’ve never seen it. I will have to make it a priority!

  5. It is Forbidden for any Stanwyck fan not to see Forbidden. You do indeed feel her humiliating loneliness in the dining room scene. However, it is very difficult to believe that anyone looking as she does coming down that staircase would be alone for more than two seconds.

  6. Karen, really enjoyed your posting. I love this early Capra film too – Stanwyck and Menjou make a great couple in it and, as you say, Ralph Bellamy’s character really isn’t what you’d expect.

    • Thank you so much, Judy! Wasn’t Ralph Bellamy something? This is really one of my favorite roles of his, because it’s so different than anything else I’ve seen him do.

  7. Great post, I share your love for this one, Stanwyck going from plain librarian Jane to vampy Lulu with the new do is fab. “Play a ukulele while it burned” ! Giggle snort.

  8. You’re right, Karen. I need to see this movie now!🙂 Barbara Stanwyck and a cruise ship were all I needed to capture my attention, but the rest of your review was also very compelling. I’ll have to try to get my hands on a copy.

  9. Great review. Because of this blogathon, I am compiling an enormous list of must-see Stanwyck films!

  10. Karen, I confess that films like FORBIDDEN usually don’t grab me, but with Barbara Stanwyck and Adolph Menjou in the leads (nothing wrong with Ralph Bellamy, either), you’ve caught my interest! I’ll have to check our FORBIDDEN!

  11. […] Karen, over at the sublime Shadows and Satin, writes about Forbidden and lists out her favorite scenes. She goes into a good amount of detail on them, and they are truly some of the best bits of the film. […]

  12. Forbidden is sort of an amazing grab bag of 30s tropes, isn’t it? Personally, I think it would be worth seeing solely for Ralph Bellamy as a sleazy, fast-talking, romantically obsessed reporter. Despite the eye makeup, I actually think he had pretty good chemistry with Stanwyck, better than Menjou’s. Menjou does his best but to me, the role feels like a pretty standard indecisive adulterer part. I do like the offbeat choice to have him and Stanwyck play out a romance scene in carnival masks. I don’t think Capra gets nearly enough credit for how much heat, strangeness, and sweetness he put into his love scenes.

    I’m really glad that you chose to tackle one of Stanwyck’s pre-Codes, since as far as I’m concerned, they’re ain’t many that can review ’em like you can. Thanks for the review, Karen!

    • Thank you so much, Aubyn! I was actually surprised at how sold I was on the romance between Stanwyck and Menjou — I guess because I don’t normally think of him having romantic chemistry with anybody! LOL But I liked him and Stanwyck in this one — I really felt the love. As for Bellamy, he was just so abrasive, I couldn’t stand him! But I loved him in the role, because it was just so different than anything I’ve seen him play, and he OWNED it!

  13. I really enjoyed your write-up here, but I have to admit, I couldn’t get into this movie. As good as I found Stanwyck and Menjou, and as good as the early scenes are when they’re falling in love, I think Ralph Bellamy goes *way* over the top (also, he is another one of those actors who I think became more interesting as they got older), and the scenes in the second half, despite Stanwyck’s best efforts, come off as somewhat stilted. Capra said in his autobiography he didn’t have the knack to pull off a story like this, and based on the evidence of this film, I’d agree. Still, as I said, I enjoyed what you wrote about it.

    • I loved your comments, Sean, and I can certainly see where you’re coming from. In fact, the first time I saw Forbidden, I wasn’t all that wild about it, and really the only thing that stuck out was that rather bizarre scene with the carnival masks. But after viewing it several more times, it definitely grew on me, and I appreciated it more every time I saw it! That’s really interesting what Capra said, though!

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