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Pre-Code that Pushed the Envelope

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The Divorcee- "If the husband can philander, why not the wife?" Challenges the seemed timeless double standard of men who cheat on their spouses versus women who cheat on their spouse, and sex life after marriage. 

 

Wonder Bar- the first time an openly gay man asks another man to dance in a film, and that there was no shaming at all during the main gay character's run. 

 

Midnight Mary- Loretta Young as a prostitute/gangster's moll. Conventional precode sex yes, but Attila The Nun as a prostitute?! You must see to believe! 

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The Sign Of The Cross- Joyzelle Joyner trying to seduce Elissa Landi....Claudette Colbert's nude milk bath.....Christians in the Colosseum. 

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Mandalay with Kay Francis, who is discarded by lover Ricardo Cortez (so what else is new?) and becomes a prostitute called "White Spot."  Michael Curtiz directs with great use of expressionism and atmosphere.  The thing is fascinating in an awful way and I can't tell you the end, but many evil deeds go unpunished.

 

Ann Vickers with Irene Dunne, apparently made before she was the virginal Magnolia Hawkes in Showboat..  She has an affair with soldier Bruce Cabot, an out of wedlock pregnancy that mysteriously ends after she takes a trip to Havana, and then she takes up with married judge Walter Huston, which leads to another out of wedlock pregnancy.  Ann is a prison reformer and journalist, and both Irene Dunne and Walter Huston give strong performances.  Somehow, the strength of their characters and the performances make you forget  that they are breaking every rule in the book.  

 

 

 

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Either Madam Satan or Red Headed Woman... the latter, the first pre code film I ever watched (I had it on DVD cos I missed TCM's viewing of it that month) surprised me! I never knew films could be like that in the '30s! I was blushing and giggling. Bill Legendre (Chester Morris) and Lil "Red" Andrews (Jean Harlow) do the unthinkable, and "'Rene" Legendre catches them in the act! I was surprised when 'Rene (I can't for the life of me remember the actress's name) came out, and I paraphrase "You think you could get him with SEX," and how she, "Red" doesn't know how to love, but uses her sex appeal. The fact she flat out said "SEX" I was like... whoa.... I guess it also pushed the envelope cos "Red" sleeps with EVERY GUY in the movie, and I don't want to give away the ending, but let's say "Red" feels no remorse, and suffers no consequences.

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Either Madam Satan or Red Headed Woman... the latter, the first pre code film I ever watched (I had it on DVD cos I missed TCM's viewing of it that month) surprised me! I never knew films could be like that in the '30s! I was blushing and giggling. Bill Legendre (Chester Morris) and Lil "Red" Andrews (Jean Harlow) do the unthinkable, and "'Rene" Legendre catches them in the act! I was surprised when 'Rene (I can't for the life of me remember the actress's name) came out, and I paraphrase "You think you could get him with SEX," and how she, "Red" doesn't know how to love, but uses her sex appeal. The fact she flat out said "SEX" I was like... whoa.... I guess it also pushed the envelope cos "Red" sleeps with EVERY GUY in the movie, and I don't want to give away the ending, but let's say "Red" feels no remorse, and suffers no consequences.

 

Leila Hyams is the actress that plays Rene.    Yea,  Red Headed Woman is one 'let it all out' film.   Another I highly recommend is Three on a Match,  with Ann Dvorak,  Joan Blondell and a very young Bette Davis.   

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What amazed me about the pre-code movies was not only the "sex" scenes (straight and lesbian), but the amount of actual nudity by some of the female "greats" of stage and screen...i.e. Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Dolores Costello, Joan Blondell, Louise Brooks, Hedy Lamarr, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, and Joan Crawford just to name a few. The "Roaring Twenties" really lived up to their name. LOL

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What amazed me about the pre-code movies was not only the "sex" scenes (straight and lesbian), but the amount of actual nudity by some of the female "greats" of stage and screen...i.e. Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Dolores Costello, Joan Blondell, Louise Brooks, Hedy Lamarr, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, and Joan Crawford just to name a few. The "Roaring Twenties" really lived up to their name. LOL

 

Don't forget Carole Lombard in No Man of Her Own.     But yea the director always found a way to ensure a women or two was shown undressing regardless of if it advanced the plot.       

 

If the wet t-shirt contest look had been 'invented' back than they would have found a way to work this into at least one scene!    We didn't get that until The Deep.   

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Don't forget Carole Lombard in No Man of Her Own.     But yea the director always found a way to ensure a women or two was shown undressing regardless of if it advanced the plot.       

 

If the wet t-shirt contest look had been 'invented' back then they would have found a way to work this into at least one scene!    We didn't get that until The Deep.   

Hey, James, you're not quite accurate there. Check out Raquel Torres in The Sea Bat (1930) for an eye-popping wet t-shirt scene (it also features Karloff in a small role).

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Hey, James, you're not quite accurate there. Check out Raquel Torres in The Sea Bat (1930) for an eye-popping wet t-shirt scene (it also features Karloff in a small role).

 

Thanks for the tip.   So those clever guys in the pre-code era did find a way to work in an eye-popping wet t-shirt scene after all!  Oh where oh where is this type of creativity today.

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Night Nurse.  

 

Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell spend much of the film undressing.  When I first saw this film, I was fascinated that Stanwyck stripped down to her bra in this film.  I know Stanwyck isn't known as a great beauty of the screen, but I think she was very pretty.  In a game of "Who Would You Rather?" between Stanwyck and Blondell, my husband chose Stanwyck.  He said she was cute and had a nice figure.  

 

Another theme in Night Nurse that pushed the envelope was the whole theme of the chauffeur who is slowly starving the children in order to obtain a trust fund.

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Night Nurse.  

 

Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell spend much of the film undressing.  When I first saw this film, I was fascinated that Stanwyck stripped down to her bra in this film.  I know Stanwyck isn't known as a great beauty of the screen, but I think she was very pretty.  In a game of "Who Would You Rather?" between Stanwyck and Blondell, my husband chose Stanwyck.  He said she was cute and had a nice figure.  

 

Another theme in Night Nurse that pushed the envelope was the whole theme of the chauffeur who is slowly starving the children in order to obtain a trust fund.

 

Clark Gable was the chauffeur.   In this early role he played a really mean disgusting person.    Night Nurse is a fine example of a pre-code;  the type of film Hollywood wouldn't make again until the mid-60s when the Production code started being ignored.

 

Love the ending where the murder of a rat is presented as justice but also a laugh.

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Clark Gable was the chauffeur.   In this early role he played a really mean disgusting person.    Night Nurse is a fine example of a pre-code;  the type of film Hollywood wouldn't make again until the mid-60s when the Production code started being ignored.

 

Love the ending where the murder of a rat is presented as justice but also a laugh.

The mother in this film was a real piece of work too.  Yes.  I remember Gable.  His early roles are very interesting.  I also liked him in Hold Your Man with Jean Harlow.  In this film, he played a con artist who is trying to hide out.

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Whispering Whoopee(?) with Thelma Todd.  3 call girls play "post office" with a group of older men, but something more seems to be going on.

 

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Whispering Whoopee(?) with Thelma Todd.  3 call girls play "post office" with a group of older men, but something more seems to be going on.

 

Not much on Wiki about this film but the casting credits looks 'odd' in that all the actors play themselves expect for the butler;

 

Charley Chase as Charley

Thelma Todd as Miss Todd

Anita Garvin as Miss Garvin

Dolores Brinkman as Miss Brinkman

Kay Deslys as Miss Deslys

Eddie Dunn as Ricketts, the Butler      

Dell Henderson as Mr. Henderson

Carl Stockdale as Mr. Stockdale

Tenen Holtz as Mr. Holtz

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I don't know if Design For Living (1933) has been mentioned. Miriam Hopkins (who was born for Pre-Code films) can't decide between Gary Cooper and Frederic March, so she decides to live with both of them.  And of course The Story of Temple Drake from 1933 (also with Hopkins) dealt with rape.  That film may have been responsible for creating the Code.

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I don't know if Design For Living (1933) has been mentioned. Miriam Hopkins (who was born for Pre-Code films) can't decide between Gary Cooper and Frederic March, so she decides to live with both of them.  And of course The Story of Temple Drake from 1933 (also with Hopkins) dealt with rape.  That film may have been responsible for creating the Code.

 

Hopkins was one of a kind and she was really in her element in Pre-Code films (but also did some fine work once the code was enforced).     

 

As for responsible for creating the code (I believe you really mean the code being enforced in July of 1934);   Well I would like to credit Hopkins more so than Mae West!

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I think Trouble is Paradise is pretty sexy.  I mean, just what were Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall doing in her room for so long, hmmmmm?

 

Trouble in Paradise is a very sexy film.    The three stars, Hopkins,  Francis and Marshall give fine performances in this fun,  very sexually open,  pre-code romp.    I was happy to see that the film was listed #48 in a recent top 100 comedies critic poll.

 

Clearly one of my favorite pre-code film and a good film to use as an introduction to the unique pre-code era of American filmmaking. 

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