wouldbestar

Pre-code Musicals

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Who Knew? Not me! I watched 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 last night and was both delighted and shocked. They were obviously made before the Hayes office as the situations, costumes and song lyrics were quite risqu? for the usual musical films. Girls in silhouette appearing naked in the shower or looking dressed in nothing but big gold coins, songs about ?panties and scanties, and showgirls who were openly ?easy?. I know the women were revealed to be wearing bathing suits in the shower or flesh-colored material to hold the scanty tops and bottoms together-much like ice skaters are doing today-but it was still surprising.

 

The story lines weren?t really all that corny or so well written that you didn?t notice it. The musical numbers were good and not too long. That?s the reason I liked these films better than the Fred-Ginger ones I saw last week. I thought ?The Continental? would never end in The Gay Divorcee.

 

The popularity of these movies made me wonder just who was objecting to the content so strongly that the Hayes office was born. I thought the cynical view of marriage in the ?Shuffle off to Buffalo? number was a bit much and because of that maybe I might have been one of the objectors-it doesn?t seem to have been as free a time as now and pretty conventional where family life is concerned.

 

I got a kick out of finally seeing Ned Sparks at work; he was in a lot of Warners cartoons and I always wanted to see him for real. What a voice! And of course Aline McMahon and Zazu Pitts who were really quite attractive women under the comedy. I?m glad I gave these movies a try.

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You should try Wonder Bar, Flying Down to Rio and Murder at the Vanities (not a true musical, but with musical numbers) if you want to see more examples of the pre code musical. Men damncing with men, girls in sheer tops strapped to airplane wings, an ode to Sweet Marijuana while topless chorus girls sway in the background...crazy stuff.

 

OK, now here's a little about the Production Code, the way I understand it (just quick and dirty--I'm sure there is a much more detailed explanation somewhere on these boards) The Production Code was actually put into place in the early 20's, around the time of the Fatty Arbuckle trials, as a sop to the "Moral Majority" but was largely disregarded by Hollywood execs. ). The advent of sound added risque dialogue to films, which made things worse. Women's groups protested and the Catholic Legion of Decency threatened to make watching any film not approved by them a mortal sin, which for Catholics in the 20's and 30's (and today? no idea) was a big deal. Eventually the threat of boycott in cities like Boston, with large Catholic populations caused the studios to finally give in and begin following the Code to the letter. There were also a number of more conservative states (including New York, which is surprising) that routinely cut movies to pieces to meet their own censorship standards, usually without any regard to the continuity or story, basically ruining them, which also contributed to the enforcement of the Code. (There's more to it than that--Good reference books are _Sin in Soft Focus_ by Mark Vieira (gorgeous pics!) _Dangerous Men_ and _Complicated Women_ by Mick LaSalle and _The Dame in The Kimono_ by Leonard Leff.)

 

After the Production Code went into full force mode, Joseph Breen and his cohorts in the Hayes Office (Will Hayes was nomially in charge, but Breen was the power behind the desk) went through old films and decided which ones could be re-released and which could not without editing, which had to be done on the master negatives. Some films which recieved this treatment were: All Quiet on the Western Front, Animal Crackers, Public Enemy, Frankenstien, Dracula, A Farewell to Arms, 42nd Street, Shanghai Express, and as anyone whose been around these boards knows, thanks to hundreds of references by johnbabe, Mata Hari. Fortunately, most of these have been restored from master prints found hidden (lost?) in vaults.

 

Wow. That turned out longer than I intended.

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A lot of the movies made in those years that were not musicals per se, often included musical numbers that are great. I just picked up a copy of "Flirtation Walk" which I've never seen before ...

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THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, starring Maurice Chevalier, Miriam Hopkins, and Claudette Colbert, certainly qualifies as a Pre-Code musical, in that sophisticated Lubitschian way. It's available on DVD, and I recommend it.

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Murder at the Vanities (1934) is worth a look. It's a musical-mystery, and it tackles the post-Prohibition theme quite nicely. A couple of the early musical numbers show nearly naked women.

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