Written by: Jo Swerling
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy
In the pursuit of finding love, no matter the amount of fish out in the sea, at times nothing can keep an individual away from one particular person. No matter the pain caused and how the relationship does not align with the specifications of a fairytale, something about them forever causes a neverending draw. As tragic and melodramatic as one could possibly imagine, Forbidden takes a look at a woman finding love and the circumstance becoming worse at each turn.
Tired of being single and everything else in her life, Lulu Smith (Barbara Stanwyck) decides to withdraw her life savings to go on a cruise to Havana, Cuba. While on the cruise, she strikes a romance with a perceived bachelor Bob Grover (Adolphe Menjou). With the whole world to themselves, reality hits them when the cruise ends and Lulu learns of Bob’s wife.
Stories centered on affairs, especially in the era of this film’s release, have the intent to display how infidelity destroys the dream of the American nuclear family ideal. A tragedy in the values of this country and as a result, it labels “the other woman” in the villainous role. Sure, the married man engaged with the infidelity but all of it would not have happened if not for this other woman. Forbidden, in a sense, does something radical in how it fixates the entire story on Lulu, who happens to be the other woman, but tells a deeply sympathetic story on her part. Serving as the protagonist throughout, we see how this impacts her and the tragedy of despite the deceit, she still found her true love.
The thought of this film being released in 1932 with the message it had must have twirled some heads because of how it focuses on Lulu. Pretty much a spinster, the cruise to Havana served not only as a respite but the opportunity to find something new in life. She’s aching for something to give her a reason to live, which Bob becomes for her. The film does a tremendous job selling the relationship between these two from the very beginning. A drunken mix-up and an undeniable attraction allow these two a moment in time where nothing in the outside world matters. They have everything to themselves until reality strikes, which ultimately makes it difficult for Lulu to possibly move on.
There certainly will be instances where you want to scream for her to move on from this relationship with Bob, where even when he discloses his marriage, Lulu still wants to be with him. For better or worse, Bob gave her a reason to live and she’s willing to move out to the big city just to be near him. With his political ambitions, she does whatever becomes necessary to have him and protect the upward climb it takes to rise in this sphere. Some instances just become heartbreaking but it all speaks to the level of love Lulu has established for this man and simply will not let go.
The ways Lulu covers up for Bob comes at its most disheartening when Al Holland (Ralph Bellamy), a newspaperman seeks to bring down Bob’s political career. Fancying Lulu himself, Al does not realize he has affection for the very ammunition that could help tank Bob’s chances to ever win public office. It presents one of the biggest hurdles for Lulu where at any moment she could ruin Bob’s life but vehemently chooses not to because of the adoration she has for him. Truly such a sad story to get through but one where the intentions carry water and how it comes together overall.
Selling every bit of this role, Barbara Stanwyck absolutely carries this film on her back with the heartbreaking performance she gives as Lulu. Showing the desperation she had at the beginning to have something in her life allows us to sympathize with her even at times we want to shake her by the shoulders to move on. Lulu found the love of her life and just because she happened to have run into him at the wrong time does not erase her feelings towards him. Stanwyck’s performance displays the vulnerabilities of this character along with the instances where she demonstrates resolute strength in how she feels about her life situation. Major props must go her way for taking a role like this one, especially in 1932, where making a mistress sympathetic probably did not go so well.
For someone who made a career in selling the American Dream, Frank Capra’s direction of this feature serves as quite the deconstruction of it all. Typically his films follow the Bob character and how he rises to the top politically displaying the American ethics and values the audience can aspire to achieve. Instead, the focus lies on the mistress herself and how she has the power to completely wreck an image, which falls well within her rights, but continues to toss the leverage she has accrued. Almost a sacrificial lamb in some way in order to prop up this man trying to have it all politically and relationally. Considering this feature came well before many of his more idealistic features, this film serves as such an intriguing entry into his filmography.
Sometimes you just cannot help who you love accurately displays the emotional struggle at the core of Forbidden. However, the amount of love Lulu displays should be the envy of many seeing what she’s willing to do in order to care for one individual. It becomes a difficult viewing experience to see her throw everything away for one man, but the film makes it clear she makes these decisions through her own volitions. This gives the story of a mistress more power than any others that might have struck the airwaves. A daring story for the time and one that absolutely holds up nearly a century later.