DVD Review: DIVA DOLOROSA and FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD, VOLUME 2

When I popped the DVD for director Peter Delpeut’s Diva Dolorsa into the player, I didn’t know much about the film or the Dutch filmmaker. A quick search online shows that not many others do either, with no Wikipedia entry and scant information on his Internet Movie Database entry. Seventy minutes later, I did know one thing and that was that I wanted to know more about him.

Delpeut’s specialty is taking “found footage” and re-editing it into a new cinematical experience. With Diva Dolorosa, Delpeut has taken footage from 14 silent Italian films and edits them together into a fascinating film that is neither fiction feature or strictly documentary. The result is more a tone poem that defines a particular genre of Italian silent cinema.

Through much research and then skillfull editing, Delpeut presents us with a montage of different actresses in similar situations, all performing variations on the same theme. We see them vamp, seduce and use their feminine wiles to get what they want. And we see that there is always a price to pay for such behavior. It seems only fitting that these operatic morality plays were acted out by some Italy’s leading opera divas of the day.

Given the original source materials’ age, the film is surprisingly crisp looking, with only a bit of scratches, speckling a wear showing. Granted, Delpeut probably only used the best of what was available, but the results are pleasing nevertheless.

With its wanton depictions of lust and greed, Diva Dolorosa makes an interesting companion to another recent release, the new collection of pre-Code films, Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 2.

Thanks to numerous transfers of studio libraries over the years, Warner Brothers is able to include two MGM pre-Codes- The Divorcee (1930) and A Free Soul (1931) – in the set along with their own- Three On A Match (1932), Female (1933) and Night Nurse (1931). All the films are good examples of what the period had to offer, and there’s something here to please virtually any fan of classic cinema. The Divorcee and A Free Soul feature a pair of performances from Norma Shearer that may surprise those only familiar with her later work. Clark Gable shows up twice – in A Free Soul and Night Nurse – playing gangsters who come to untimely, though deserved, ends. Joan Blondell provides strong supporting work in Three On A Match and Night Nurse. Three On A Match also sees some great work from Ann Dvorak as a society lady whose life spins out of control into a whirlpool of drugs, booze and child neglect before reaching a redemption of sorts. (Bogart also passes through Three On A Match in one of his many early Warners gangster roles.) Female stands out due to a good performance from Ruth Chatteron as the President of an automobile manufacturing company who views its business offices as her own personal carnal grazing grounds. Unfortunately, the movie also stands out for an ending that manages to negate the film’s initial feminist premise. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the titular Night Nurse who comes to discover that the two young children in her charge is being slowly starved to death. Ben Lyon turns in a breezy performance as a smooth but petty crook who does away with the menacing Clark Gable without Stanwyck’s character ever becoming the wiser, leaving one wondering why he never became a bigger star.

While the first volume of Forbidden Hollywood released last year contained three prime examples of racy, early Hollywood talkies before the Production Code came into effect and put a clamp on the sex and sinning, it was notably lacking in special features. Volume 2 more than makes up for that omission with commentary tracks on three of the five films in the set, plus a 68-minute documentary entitled Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin, and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. The documentary gives a great primer on the pre-Code era, with an emphasis on the five films in the set. Film historians Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta contribute commentary tracks for The Divorcee and Night Nurse.

About Rich Drees 6800 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture.
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