Friday, April 10, 2009

Pre-Code movies

Since my other 2 blogs are devoted to mass media, I don't usually use this space to talk about that stuff, much less to advertise a product. But since apparently nothing's been going on in my life that's worth announcing, I thought I'd mention how excited I am about two new DVD sets of movies that belong to what is commonly called the "Pre-Code" days, from the late 20's to the summer of 1934 when Hollywood films were made and released without any real oversight by national censors. In 1934, the Production Code, which mandated what could and couldn't be said or done or shown in a movie, was officially enforced; before that, the Code existed as suggestions rather than a hard and fast set of laws, but local censorship boards across the country were cutting movies to ribbons, and when faced with the threat of federal censorship, the film industry decided to censor itself.

The pre-Code movies will disappoint viewers expecting cursing and nudity--though there are occasional bawdy references and scantily-clad ladies. What's really interesting about them is the morality; promiscuity, adultery, and single motherhood were not always punished by death or loneliness like they would be in Code movies. Even murderers weren't always brought to justice. Gay people, who were only presented as marginal characters and were treated with scornful humor in the early 30's, vanished from movies altogether under the Code. Female characters were much more interesting in pre-Code films, not always having to save themselves for marriage, not always having to wind up giving up all for their men.

Warners has recently released its third "Forbidden Hollywood" set, this one with the films of William Wellman, including the memorable juvenile delinquent film Wild Boys of the Road, and a gritty but breezy romantic melodrama called Other Men's Women about a romantic triangle between Mary Astor and two railroad workers. Most of the films in the Warners sets have been shown with some frequency on Turner Classic Movies, but the more interesting set is from Universal, the Pre-Code Hollywood Collection, mostly movies from the Paramount Pictures vaults most of which have not been presented anywhere outside of New York revival houses, in many years. Earlier in the week, I watched the notorious Murder at the Vanities, which has lots of nearly-naked chorus girls and one remarkable musical number in which a woman sings of the benefits of "Sweet Marijuana." I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the films in the set soon.

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.