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Film Forum Dusts Off 1930s Warner Bros. Classics

Noteworthy attractions in ``Naughty! Bawdy! Gaudy! Warner Bros. Before the Code'' range from fondly remembered favorites to largely forgotten rarities. Among the 58 movies are:

* ``Female,'' directed by Michael Curtiz. Ruth Chatterton plays the chief of an automobile company, who seduces a different man every night and shuns commitment in all but business - until she meets a handsome engineer, George Brent, and acquires a whole new view of life. The heroine seems like a prototype of free womanhood until the climax, when she breaks down at a board meeting and asks how a mere female can be expected to handle corporate affairs. Social attitudes of the 1930s are rarely reflected more directly or revealingly.

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* ``Ex-Lady,'' directed by Robert Florey. Bette Davis plays yet another pre-Code heroine who refuses to marry and settle down despite heartrending pleas from the man who loves her. Role reversal with a vengeance.

* ``Employees' Entrance,'' directed by Roy Del Ruth. The story of a department-store boss who'll stop at nothing to promote his business and boost his profits. Warren William plays the hero with unstoppable energy, managing to be ruthless and irresistible at the same time - rather like the movie itself.

* ``Baby Face,'' directed by Alfred E. Green. Barbara Stanwyck leaves an abusive home for the business world, where she exploits her feminine wiles to reach the top. A daring picture for its day.

* ``Union Depot,'' directed by Alfred E. Green. There are subplots galore as hustler Douglas Fairbanks Jr. meets chorus girl Joan Blondell in a railroad station where every traveler has a fascinating story. There's eloquent moving-camera work, too.

* ``The Public Enemy,'' directed by William Wellman. In one of his most renowned performances, James Cagney comes on like gangbusters as hoodlum Tom Powers, who rises to infamy in the Prohibition era. Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke are among the supporting players.

* ``Little Caesar,'' directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The title character is a thug played to snarling perfection by Edward G. Robinson; the screenplay provides a model of gangster-film toughness.

* ``I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang,'' directed by Mervyn LeRoy. There's still incredible power to this real-life story of a decent man tricked into assisting a crime, sentenced to hard labor on a Southern chain gang, and betrayed into further misery after he escapes and rehabilitates himself. Paul Muni is superb as the tortured hero.

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Also in the series are such classics as ``The Maltese Falcon,'' an early film noir thriller, and ``20,000 Years in Sing Sing,'' a sizzling prison melodrama. The program runs through March 24.

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