Monday, January 20, 2014

Pre-Code Hollywood: No Restrictions Apply

Just the other day, my fourteen year old complained about not being allowed to watch rated R movies. He said, “You and Dad are I’m too overprotective and not giving me a chance to see what life’s really like.” Excuse me for being a parent. Instead of letting him watch today’s restricted movies, perhaps I’ll let him watch some of these:

The Cheat, 1931
A compulsive gambler will do anything to pay off her debt – including turning to a wealthy businessman behind her husband’s back.

Events take an unhappy turn for two Bill and Jack, two locomotive engineers, after Bill is attracted to his best friend's wife.
Dorothy Mackhaill in Safe in Hell, 1931
After accidentally killing the man who raped her and forced her into prostitution, a New Orleans woman flees to a Caribbean island. While she awaits her fiancé, the vicious local police chief sets his sights on her.

 Hot Saturday  1932
Scandal erupts after a young woman innocently spends the night with a notorious playboy and neglects to tell her fiancé.
Merrily We Go to Hell, 1932
An abusive alcoholic reunites with a woman from his past driving his wife to drastic measures.

They Call it Sin, 1932
With time on his hands during a business trip, Jimmy Decker (who's engaged to his boss's daughter) romances small-town church organist Marion Cullen.  She follows him to New York only to learn Jimmy's true colors after she's burned her bridges.
Attractive Nan, member of a bank-robbery gang, goes to prison thanks to evangelist Dave Slade...who loves her.
Letty, a young woman who ended up pregnant, unmarried and on the streets at fifteen is bitter and determined that her child will not grow up to be taken advantage of. Letty teaches her child to lie, steal, cheat and do anything else he'll need to be street smart.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, movies of the past were just as gritty as the movies of today. Well, maybe not just as gritty, but back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, it wasn’t unusual to find sexual innuendo, profanity, illegal drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, extreme violence and homosexuality in films.

This period in cinema history is known as the Pre-Code era, the time before movies were censored and sugar coated to reflect all American wholesomeness.
Ina Claire publicity still for The Greeks Had a Word for Them, 1932
According to DVD Beaver, “In 1934, Hollywood was turned upside down by the enforcement of a strict “Production Code” that would change the way movies were made for the next 34 years. During the “pre-code” period (1929 to mid-1934), censorship barely existed in Hollywood and filmmakers had free reign to make the movies they wanted and the public demanded. No subject was taboo...”

To read more about Pre-Code Hollywood click here.

The sensational subject of sex sold back then, just like it does today.  However, Variety blamed women for the rise in such steamy films:

Women are responsible for the ever-increasing public taste in sensationalism and sexy stuff. Women who make up the bulk of the picture audiences are also the majority reader of the tabloids, scandal sheets, flashy magazines, and erotic books ... the mind of the average man seems wholesome in comparison.... Women love dirt, nothing shocks 'em.

The more times change the more they stay the same...

I haven’t seen enough Pre-Code movies to have a favorite, but I’d love to see Born to be Bad. Maybe I’ll watch it with my fourteen-year-old so he can learn what kind of women to avoid!

Were you familiar with the Pre-Code Era of Hollywood? Do you have any favorite Pre-Code films?  

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!


Norma said...

Much as I hate to say this, women ARE the ones responsible for the success of Fifty Shades of Grey....

Old Kitty said...

I'm looking through the list of pre-Code films on wiki and I love that I've seen some of them - goodness, the gangster films - Little Ceasar, Public Enemy, Scarface! And then Blue Angel with the luscious Ms Dietrich! And It happened one night - best comedy! And I always thought Maureen O'Sullivan's Jane (pre-Code) to Johnny Weismiler's Tarzan was the most erotic and stunningly sexy creature ever! LOL! Oh I am loving this, thank you! Take care

shelly said...

May West was a very pre-code gal.

William Kendall said...

The Code, such as it was, always struck me as a very reactionary, we know what's best for you bit of nonsense.

Maria McKenzie said...

@Norma: You're right:0!

@Kitty: I love those gangster films! When James Cagney pushed the grapefruit in Mae Clark's face in The Public Enemy, it wasn't rehearsed--she was as stunned as the audience!

@Shelly: Ah, how Ms. West could push the envelope!

@William: Yeah, ridiculous. The powers behind the Code reasoned that they could save audiences from themselves.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I might've read something about the lack of movie ratings prior to 1934, but never realized so many took advantage of it! I can sympathize with your son, though- I wasn't allowed to watch R rated movies, either, and it seemed like I was the only one! In retrospect, I don't think I missed much.

Maria McKenzie said...

@Jennette: Just seems like kids learn enough about the cold, cruel world without watching R rated movies:(.

Chris said...

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Maria McKenzie said...

Hi Chris! Thanks so much for stopping by:). Glad you've enjoyed my blog. I'm on my way to visit you!

james said...

Cool article! I remember a Busby Berkeley scene--though the title escapes me at the moment--where he had topless gals sitting on wings of aeroplanes showing off miles of leg and singing and dancing on the wings!

I'm pretty sure they were actually flying!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, James! Thanks for visiting:). OMGosh--it's hard to believe scenes like that were really shot back then! Sounds like it could be a dream sequence in an R movie of today;)!