Frank Capra directed this 1932 soap opera/melodrama and it stands out as an unusual title from his oeuvre, rich in both pre-code story elements and a complicated storyline about the travails of a frustrated librarian (Lulu, played by Barbara Stanwyck) who throws her career aside, empties her savings from the bank ($1,200) and goes on an ocean cruise to Havana in search of excitement (both she and the viewer are generally thwarted in this goal for 85 minutes).
En route, she transforms from the pince-nez wearing, buttoned-up librarian into a glamorous fur-clad traveler with an assortment of ready male passengers available for her to choose from for companionship. She selects Bob Grover (Adolphe Menjou), who she discovers after the trip is actually a married politician. She breaks off the relationship only to then realize she is pregnant. Complications ensue as the tale passes over decades of time of the stop-and-go relationship between Lulu and Bob.
The film is well-photographed by cinematographer Joseph Walker (Capra keeps the camera on Stanwyck through most of the film as if he has a crush, and every small gesture and expression of hers he finds fascinating) but the script from Jo Swerling (from Capra's outline) gets bogged down into the webs of a love-triangle that only perks to life when Stanwyck guns down one of the members, a very young Ralph Bellamy (eventually powdered up as a much older man) who is assigned the role of long-term suitor but eventual headline-chasing rat from the newspaper office where Stanwyck's character ended up after torching her librarian career.
Stanwyck is fine in her role as the young/old Lulu overwhelmed with a complex love-life and trapped into a corner where she has to resort to artillery when dealing with betrayal.
Adolphe Menjou plays his atypical suave man-of-the-world, but here he gets to actually play with a bit more range in what appears to be a relatively good-intentioned man who cannot escape the social conventions of his class. Capra's crazy story allows Menjou to have a moment of redemption by the end, and a convenient alternative-villain (Bellamy's character Al Holland) to draw off a lot of the ire of the film audience who watch Stanwyck suffer for 85 minutes because of Menjou (and also due to, of course, the decisions of Stanwyck's character who has traded the empty life of a frustrated librarian for the empty, guilty life of a multi-decade affair).
Forbidden seems like a project manufactured by Warner Brothers to keep Stanwyck and Capra working together (they had earlier made Miracle Woman and Ladies of Leisure), but Forbidden provides very little emotional release (as the earlier films did) unless you count Forbidden's penultimate sequence in which Stanwyck solves her main problem by firing a revolver.
In a way, Forbidden is a dry-run for Stanwyck's much better-known film from 1937, Stella Dallas, which contains a key element shared in both movies, that of Stanwyck as a mother who'll stop at nothing to take care of a daughter.
A funny aspect of Forbidden is that the story-line traverses decades, but the outfits of the characters never change in style, it's always 1932 no matter what age the characters are made-up to be. It's as if this story has happened to Lulu in a tormenting dream over an 85 minute period.
A DVD of this film is part of the Frank Capra: The Early Collection (which contains Ladies of Leisure / Rain or Shine / The Miracle Woman / Forbidden / The Bitter Tea of General Yen).
The DVD print is rather dark a great deal of the time, and probably would benefit from remastering.
Frank Capra: The Early Collection - Featuring Ladies of Leisure / Rain or Shine / The Miracle Woman / Forbidden / Bitter Tea of General Yen - Amazon.com
Original Page April 23, 2015