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bobhopefan1940

::Forgive Me, I'm a [i]Pre-Code[/i] Newbie::

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To All:

 

I was listening to one of Robert Osbourne's intros the other day and it got me thinking about "The Hays Code." I'm new to all this stuff, so it hadn't dawned on me yet what pre-code meant exactly. Tonight I went on here specifically to find out. I've searched the site in alot of categories to find out more about the code and the effect it had on Hollywood. I'm still a little confused about what it all means, but I'm learning!

 

What I'm coming to is where I can find out what movies are pre-code and which are not... Particularly from 1934. Also wondering what some of you thought of how different classics would be with or without the Hays Code.

 

And how far movies got morally before the code was inforced! Before I started watching classics, I always thought none of these old movies had any suggestiveness to them... What a false impression, right?

 

Sorry if I brought up any old points, I've been glancing over posts from as far back as a year. In addition, if any of you have any names to offer up of stars who either disagreed/agreed with the code. Websites are great, too!

 

Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!

 

bhf1940 :)

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Movie makers found by around 1910-15 that more people would go to movies if the films contained some scenes of sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, and nudity, and many films began to contain more of that stuff, which began to outrage the parents of the nation.

 

There were many threats of federal movie censorship such as with a bureau set up for that purpose, such as what eventually happened with the FCC and early radio and TV broadcasts. By the early 1920s, The National Board of Review was a private East Coast group that reviewed films and either gave them a seal of approval or not, but it didn?t actually censor the films. The Catholic Church also published a list of approved and non-approved films.

 

Later a West Coast group, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), began the first mild code to try to cut back on some of the more vulgar things shown in movies, and this was something of a censorship code run by the movie industry, but it wasn?t very effective.

 

In the meantime, by the late 1920s, seven or eight states had state censorship codes that would not allow certain vulgar and violent films to be shown in those states, under state law, and there was more talk of federal legislation for a federal censorship bureau, which is something that England and other countries adopted, as government agencies inside those countries.

 

Finally in June or July of 1934 a much more strict MPPDA code went into effect that stopped a lot of the vulgarity and violence in films. This lasted until that code began to gradually be abolished in the 1950s and ?60s.

 

So, ?pre-code? generally means the early sound films made in 1929 through June of 1934, if they contain sex, nudity, and violence in them. That gives us about 5 years of some pretty risqu? films that were basically hidden away from June of ?34 until just recently, until they were re-discovered and revived.

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FredCDobbs:

 

Thanks you so much for that clear and very informative post... I understand the whole thing alot better now! But I'll still continue to research it, I think I will be doing a college paper on it eventually.

 

Thanks again,

 

bhf1940

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I grew up as a kid in the 1950s thinking that there were no vulgar or violent movies before about 1950, but I later learned about the pre-code films. I think it was the AMC channel that first showed a restored version of King Kong in the 1980s.

 

Some films like King Kong, made before June of ?34, contained a little semi-nudity and violence, and those scenes were cut out for all release prints shown after June of ?34. But in the ?70s and ?80s some film experts began to track down the old missing scenes and add them back to some of the films, and the films were shown in old-movie theaters in big cities and then on TV.

 

Another example, the ?34 Code required that the scene in Frankenstein, where the monster threw the little girl into the lake and killed her, needed to be removed because it was too violent. That missing scene was later found and added back into the film.

 

Now it is a hobby of some people to track down ?restored? pre-code films that have had the missing scenes added back to them, and TCM shows a lot of these.

 

One rule of the old Code was that preachers could not be the villains in movies. Thus, the famous play ?Sadie Thompson? was made as a silent in the ?20s, and again as a sound film titled ?Rain? in 1932, but it had to be pulled out of circulation in 1934 because of the Code. This film was not shown again until the 1970s and ?80s, and copies are still rare today. The film was re-made in 1953 as a purposeful attempt to break the old Code. Other films of the 1950s broke different parts of the Code, such as anti-preacher films like ?Elmer Gantry? and ?Inherit the Wind?, and films about drug addiction (?The Man With The Golden Arm?, and ?Hat Full of Rain?), and films with cursing (such as ?On the Waterfront?), and films with more and more nudity.

 

There is an even older history of this kind of thing, in stage plays (which were mainly for adults) and adult books. The books broke the old state and city censorship codes first, then came the stage plays, then later the movies and eventually TV and radio.

 

People could be arrested in most states in the 1860s for having vulgar books, but by the 1920s they began to be allowed in many states. Eventually some of the stage plays began to be less censored. The movies were more censored because kids were always able to attend them, whereas stage plays and books could be restricted to adults.

 

There?s another interesting thing about this... some of the vulgar crime books of the 1920s and ?30s were made into Hollywood movies under the old Code, and quite a lot of salacious stuff was just left out of the films, such as Bogart?s affair with Mary Astor in ?The Maltese Falcon? of 1941, while the affair had been much more obvious in the pre-code 1931 version of the film, and of course in the original book.

 

However, many men read those old books as paperbacks in the ?30s and ?40s, and they wanted to see the movie versions, so they already knew what was going on between the men and women in the films, even though the films didn?t show the explicit scenes after the Code went into effect.

 

A few years ago the BBC made a version of ?Rebecca? which was based on the original book and it turns out that Mr. DeWinter purposely killed his wife and he and his second wife covered up the crime, and Mrs. Danvers (the mean maid) had had a lesbian relationship with the first Mrs. DeWinter. This stuff was cut out of the first movie version of 1940, and the murder was changed into an ?accident.?

 

My personal opinion is that kids should not be allowed to see the BBC version, since it will teach young kids that it?s ok to kill one?s wife, if she is a bad woman. I think this is not a good thing to teach kids, but others might disagree with me abou that.

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How fascinating! You are a fountain of knowledge and thanks for sharing it with me. I realize I have seen some "pre-code" films, but never any with explicit material. I'm wondering if it is because of the actors I limit myself to viewing (I only like certain ones). Does anyone know if any of the actors during those "pre-code" years would not act in films unless they were up to snuff with the code? Or were most against the idea of it, as I could imagine.

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In addition to all the other great answers, I'd like to recommend, if you can, to check out a short feature that IIRC is included in the DVD of "G-Men". It explains a lot about the code with footage that serves as an example.

 

The two points that I thought were most absurd about the Code were not showing a married couple sharing a bed (why would a married couple always be sleeping in separate beds???) and that at the end of the movie, you had to show that crime didn't pay.

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Thanks for the suggestion, Cinemascope

 

I've seen Top Hat many times, and to be honest was a little surprised by the carriage scene... There was nothing explicit about it, for sure. But I couldn't believe they allowed them to imply "damn" though it was not technically referring to the swear. Of what I know about it (which mind you, is very little), I thought that would not be to code... LOL, or perhaps I misunderstood the scene.

 

I never thought about what would happen to the pre-code films when the Hays Code was inforced. Did they actually destroy some of the films? Was it illegal to own them... If that was even possible. What I mean is, did they go in and take them away from theatres? I guess I have alot of questions about it... It interests me greatly!

 

bhf1940

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On Monday of next week, Dec. 4, watch for:

 

Waterloo Bridge, 1931

 

Baby Face 1933

 

Complicated Women (documentary)

 

Red-Headed Woman 1932

 

Under Eighteen 1932

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> Does anyone know if any of the actors during

> those "pre-code" years would not act in films unless

> they were up to snuff with the code? Or were most

> against the idea of it, as I could imagine.

 

An interesting tidbit about Baby Face (1933) which (as Fred says) will air on TCM on Dec. 4: Barbara Stanwyck, the star, actually suggested some of the film's racier concepts, including the idea that the main character's father, a bar-owner, should force her to have sex with his customers. Baby Face was one of the final straws leading to full enforcement of the production code.

 

As to your question: I'm not aware that any star registered either agreement or disagreement with the production code. I think the studios were able to keep such a tight rein on actors at that time that the stars would have been afraid to protest either way.

 

Another point possibly relevant to your question: Even though the code made life difficult for screenwriters, directors, and producers, Hollywood studios were anxious to comply with the "voluntary" Hays censorship program in that hope that doing so would prevent legally-enforced censorship by Congress.

 

I think some of these issues are discussed in a book I bought a long time ago but haven't read yet: "Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood." I am feeling inspired to read it now! :)

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Did they actually destroy some of the films?>>

 

BHF1940,

 

After 1934 and the implimentation of the Hays Code and the Breen Office, studios would all too often recut the pre-code films for release on the lower half of a double bill.

 

Rather than dupe the negative to make the changes, they would cut the original negative. This is how many scenes ended up becoming lost. Some of the original precodes and some of the lost scenes found their way into private collections.

 

But here in the States, all too often the offending scenes were lost for good. However, sometimes, some of the original prints are found in European archives as the Europeans were not as offended by the racy dialogue, suggestive attire and all the things that make pre-codes so watchable.

 

Also, original prints have turned up at end of the line cities where the projectionist would just store the film rather than the studio paying to have it sent back.

 

It becomes quite a treasure hunt at times trying to find lost footage.

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> So, ?pre-code? generally means the early sound films

> made in 1929 through June of 1934, if they contain

> sex, nudity, and violence in them. That gives us

> about 5 years of some pretty risqu? films that were

> basically hidden away from June of ?34 until just

> recently, until they were re-discovered and revived.

 

Fred, nice encapsulation. One thing that I would add is that it wasn't just the sex, nudity and violence that makes a pre-code. It wasn't just that the characters, including women, had active sex lives, it's that they paid no moral penalty for their transgressions.

 

For example, in the delightful "Bed of Roses," Constance Bennett is a petty thief and probable prostitute who is the romantic heroine of the movie. If the movie had been made at all post-code, it certainly wouldn't have had a happy ending.

 

It's not just that the movies showed sex, violence and nudity, but that these subjects were treated in a much more realistic manner than in the post-code era.

 

Also, I'd be interested to know any titles you're aware of from 1929 that qualify as pre-code. I was under the impression that the pre-code era was kicked off in 1930 with Norma Shearer's "The Divorcee." I have my issues with LaSalle, but he seems to be right about this.

 

BHF, there are several books on pre-code Hollywood that you should read. Your library should be able to get them for you, or you can buy them from Amazon.

 

Mick Lasalle wrote two, "Complicated Women," which was also a TCM documentary, and "Dangerous Men." "Sin in Soft Focus" by Mark Viera is a lavishly illustrated coffee table book. "Pre-Code Hollywood" by Thomas Doherty is a scholarly look at the pre-code era. Also, biographies of stars popular in the pre-code era can be a valuable research tool, for example the two Kay Francis bios.

 

I do hope you managed to tape "Red Dust," with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow this morning. This is a fantastic pre-code movie. If you didn't, PM me and I'll burn you a DVD. In addition, all of the pre-code fans here are salivating over the Dec. 4 schedule, so be sure to catch that.

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> I think some of these issues are discussed in a book

> I bought a long time ago but haven't read yet:

> "Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code

> Hollywood." I am feeling inspired to read it now!

> :)

 

It's a decent book. My biggest problem with it is that it's nearly a Norma Shearer bio -- he glosses over a lot of important pre-codes to feed his Shearer worship. Not that I don't understand his POV.

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Ok, two more things. BHF, you have to watch for some of the pre-code stuff -- in many cases it wasn't explicit. Nudity was limited to brief flashes and translucent clothing. There were no steamy sex scenes by today's standards -- a more realistic scenario was man and woman kiss in a hotel room, then fade to a table showing breakfast dishes for two. It wasn't overt, but the meaning is clear.

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Hi bobhopefan! The Pre-Codes could be really racy indeed for any time. My favorites are BABY FACE and RED HEADED WOMAN---which are both coming out on dvd. Jean Harlow and Barbara Stanwyck are forces to reckon with. I like the fashions of the 1930s and the crackling energy that seemed to jump out of the actors and actresses at that time. They couldn't say what they had to say fast enough or sound tough enough. Myrna Loy's pre-codes are the best, too, because her beauty was at its peak. My favorite Joan Crawford period is her pre-code era, when she was full of energy and hadn't become as hard looking. Marion Davies and Carole Lombard did a few that are fun to watch but the queen of Pre-Code is probably Kay Francis.

 

As you can see, it was an era where women seemed to have the edge in star power---the men who co-starred with them were usually a bit on the quiet side or were not to be taken seriously (Lee Tracy comes to mind) unless they were in adventure films. (Spencer Tracy, Robert Montgomery and William Powell being exceptions). The nineteen-forties would see the ascendancy of male actors strong enough to compete with the ladies.

 

If you are in New York, starting this week the Film Forum will be showing many rare Fox pre-codes, including a slew of those starring Spencer Tracy (on restored 35mm strips). I'm going to try to see a couple of his if I can.

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Two really good books on the subject are Complicated Women and Dangerous Men, both by Mick LaSalle. I gave the latter to my boyfriend as a present and he loved it.

 

P.S. I should add I have only looked at the first book and read the second.

 

Message was edited by:

MissGoddess

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First of all, thank you to everyone who replied to this post. I've been panning carefully over all of your posts because I find this most interesting!

 

Mr. Parker said:

 

I was under the impression that the pre-code era was kicked off in 1930 with Norma Shearer's "The Divorcee."

 

This is what originally got me thinking about the pre-codes... I was looking into Robert Montgomery films from the early 30's. He was in The Divorcee? I'd feel stupid if he were not... :P Does anyone know how racy these got or no?

 

Ok, two more things. BHF, you have to watch for some of the pre-code stuff -- in many cases it wasn't explicit. Nudity was limited to brief flashes and translucent clothing. There were no steamy sex scenes by today's standards -- a more realistic scenario was man and woman kiss in a hotel room, then fade to a table showing breakfast dishes for two. It wasn't overt, but the meaning is clear.

 

This is what my perception of it was... That they never actually showed anything but merely gave a perception of it. If you know what I mean, I know I'm not very articulate.

 

I do hope you managed to tape "Red Dust," with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow this morning.

 

Ha, I did stay up to see this... But fell asleep before it came on. I had another flick I was recording so I had to set the timer! Sorry! I wanted to see what TCM's tv rating was for it. Does anyone know what most pre-codes are rated? This would give me a very helpful idea of what's in them, if they are tv-PG, tv-14... or so forth? Certainly none could be rated tv-MA! Or am I wrong on that, too...? Now that would be shocking to me!

 

Thanks again: You've all been so helpful!

 

bhf1940

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I was thinking specifically of Joan Crawford in "Untamed", 1929. She dances in a dress then a guy dances with her and swings her around, high in the air, and she seem to not be wearing any underwear at all. You can see this by running a tape or disk slow. She either doesn't have on any underwear or she is wearing a special garment that makes it seem so. Later in the film her father tells her to stop dancing while not wearing any underwear.

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I have a tape of Red Dust. I first saw this film in a theater in San Francisco in the 1970s.

 

I was about to give up on watching movies because I didn't like modern ones, then some theaters in SF started showing rare old ones. I also saw Joan Crawford in "Rain" in a theater, which has now turned out to be a fairly rare film again. One theater showed "San Francisco" for a week during every anniversary of the Great Earthquake, and large numbers of us would go to see it every year.

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Fred, that certainly sounds pre-code to me. It also may explain why I wasn't familiar with it, as I have never been able to stand Joan Crawford. I don't know why. Just something about her ticks me off.

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I don't care much for her either. I think she was a good actress, but I never liked her personality.

 

Right off hand I can't think of other 1929 pre-codes, but there were some silent pre-codes, such as the 1928 "Our Dancing Daughers" in which Crawford took off her clothes and danced on a table in her underwear at a college dance at a hotel ballroom.

 

I think more of the sound films were thought of as pre-codes becuse of the dialogue, such as "The Divorcee". No nudity at all, but plenty of suggestive dialogue.

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(Under "Sex") 5. White slavery shall not be treated.

 

What does this mean? White people could not be portrayed as slaves on film, like in Uncle Tom's Cabin?

 

(Under "Sex") 1. Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.

 

How about this in respect to In Name Only? Was this a controvercial film or does anyone know?

 

:) Thanks for the Code link!

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I didn't see the actual rating although a TV-14 wouldn't be out of the question. I base this partly on the fact that The Marx Brothers "The Cocoanuts" had a PG rating. That makes sense as I don't think any kid would get it. The TCM database doesn't appear to have anything on it.

 

I don't recall ever seeing anything with a TV-MA rating. Others will correct me if I'm wrong.

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