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Wild boys and girls

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  January 15, 2008

Of the seven films in this collection I was able to view, only one FEMALE (screening with Employees’ Entrance), doesn’t really fit the vice-virtue paradigm. It’s worth seeing, however. Ruth Chatterton, a gifted, stage-trained technician who had a brief popularity as a leading lady during the early talkie era, plays Alison Drake, who has inherited a motor company. Like Warren William in Employees’ Entrance, she’s ambitious and hard-nosed — all the more so because she’s a woman in charge of a plant full of men. She adopts the same unsentimental attitude in her sex life. Convinced that she has no room for emotional commitments, she entertains a series of handsome employees at her home, fortifying them with vodka so they can hold up to her erotic demands (an old trick of Catherine the Great’s, according to her admiring butler). Underneath the hard-boiled sex comedy, though, lurks an old-fashioned women’s melodrama. The one man she can’t get into bed, the engineer she stole from a competitor, reminds her of the domestic impulses she’s repressed. He’s played by George Brent, who enjoyed a long career as a handsome stiff in the Warner Brothers stable. In Female, though, he’s surprisingly charming and sexy — perhaps because he was playing opposite his real-life wife.

These movies are full of life, and as well as the major pleasures of watching Clara Bow and Ruth Chatterton and the beautiful, unaffected young Loretta Young, they offer a few incidental delights. Don’t pass up the opportunity to see Blossom Seeley as the main attraction in Judith Anderson’s speakeasy in Blood Money: swathed in tulle, under an immense feather hat, glittering earrings dripping almost to her bare shoulders, she performs honky-tonk versions of “San Francisco Bay” and “Melancholy Baby” that rival Mae West’s musical performances in I’m No Angel and She Done Him Wrong.

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