The ‘Forbidden’ William A. Wellman

I tend to associate certain seasons with films from particular decades or genres.  Summertime conjures a certain nostalgia for the dusty grit of the 1930s or anything that takes place during the Depression years, which serves as a kind of visual mirroring of the heat of the day.  While at the library the other day, I picked up the first disc from Forbidden Hollywood Volume 3 because I had something of a yen to see an early Barbara Stanwyck film.  I love her work in the early Thirties, particularly what I’ve seen from the Forbidden Hollywood Collection.  She always seems so perfectly cast in these films, much more so than at any other point in her career, and that familiarity and level of authority really come to the forefront of these performances.

What I wasn’t expecting from the films on this disc (Stanwyck’s The Purchase Price and Mary Astor’s Other Men’s Women) was to be so impressed with William Wellman’s direction that I decide to skip a straightforward film analysis in favor of a more visual commentary on these films.  What intrigued me in particular, especially while watching Other Men’s Women, was the frequent use of unconventional close-up shots as well as the ease with which Wellman uses long shots of his actors.  The frequency of the latter in The Purchase Price serves as a silent reinforcement of his professional confidence in Stanwyck; his respect for her and Astor allows him to do this because he knows they do not need to constantly remind the audience of their presence and are skilled enough to sacrifice a little publicity for the sake of directorial artistry.

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