Forbidden is probably the best quality movie that Stanwyck made in the pre-code era. Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Monjou and Ralph Bellamy are all excellent in it, the production values stellar and the direction is by Frank Capra. The script is over-worked and tends toward melo-drama, but the first half is quite light and fun. Stanwyck is famous for her melt-down scenes where she lets loose and lets someone have it with a barrage of emotional yelling. Almost every pre-code Stanwyck has a melt-down, some have several. In Forbidden the melt-down comes early on. Stanwyck plays an over-worked librarian who gets driven over the dge by a bout of spring fever. The mild mannered "four eyes" decides to cash out her life savings and go on a swanky cruise to Havanna, but first she lets her co-workers have it screaming, "I wish I owned this library! If I did, I'd take and ax and chop it to pieces. Then I'd set the pieces on fire and dance around with a ukelele!!" Capra has lots of wonderful boss-telling-off scenes in his movies. Another favorite is Clark Gables "tub of mush" telegram in It Happened One Night. Deep in the Great Depression, Lulu's behavior is almost unimaginably irresponsible. Those lucky enough to have jobs were unlikely to behave that way in them and those lucky enough to have life-savings were unlikely to blow them on cruises. But what are the movies for if not for fantasy?
Stanwyck glams it up for the boat, but she still boards the ship alone and eats dinner alone every evening. One night, she returns to her cabin alone and sad and finds a man passed out drunk in her bed! In real life security would be called and possibly lawsuits filed. But in the movies, this twist of fate means that she would meet the love of her life, Bob Grover (Adolphe Menjou). Lulu and Bob fall madly in love on their trip to Havanna. Their is a very beautifully photographed scene of them riding horses in the surf (a scene which led to a real-life riding accident and years of back problems for Stanwyck). After their vacation, Lulu moves to the city and finds a job at a newspaper. There she meets a tough guy reporter (Ralph Bellamy), who spends most of his time trying to get a date with her. Bellamy is actually quite likeable and charming in this role and as the film goes on its difficult to see why Bob Grover has such a hold over Lulu.
One evening Bob comes to visit wearing a carnival mask. He has brought one for Lulu and the pair act out a little domestic play until Bob breaks down and delivers the bad news: he's married and there's no chance for divorce. Lulu breaks things off, but she's pregnant and she makes a go of raising her child alone. In a completely improbable turn of events, Lulu and Bob reunite, the reporter finds out Bob, a prominent politician has a love child and to avoid a scandal, Lulu lets Bob and his wife adopt the little girl. To see Stanwyck's who's worked so hard to assert Lulu's independence, it's difficult to watch her subvert her own needs so thoroughly to a fairly unworthy subject. Love triumphs, I suppose, but there is something about the whole last half of the film that feels forced. The first half of the movie fore-shadows Capra's later and greater comedies, while the second half reminds us just far Hollywood had to go before it created a part that was ready for everything Barbara Stanwyck had to offer.