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What was the last Pre-Code you watched?


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Pre-Codes are pretty much all I've watched lately. I've watched all on DVD.

 

Sign of the Cross: I've watched this several times already, off the Cecil B. DeMille boxset. I love the scenes with Colbert (never sexier) and Laughton. But the Christian stuff leaves me cold...so maudlin and sappy. Actually I rooted for the Romans! The ampitheater finale is violent even in this day and age; I can't imagine how 1932 audiences reacted. And sadly, I've watched Colbert's infamous "milk bath" scene about twenty times.

 

Four Frightened People: Also on the DeMille boxset. I had zero expectations on this one so what a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed it so much. I've watched it a few times and will again someday soon. I enjoy "jungle adventure" movies of the thirties and this one is a great example of the genre. Lots of great and funny dialog, some stirring action scenes, some good "jolt the audience" scenes (ie the cobra beneath the table), and of course Colbert topless yet again, this time in a waterfall (that's her in the closeups but a stand-in in the longshots). What's most crazy about this film is how the template for it still holds up today -- pretty much every note DeMille hits in this film is still being followed by modern action directors.

 

Cleopatra: Again, on the DeMille set. Another one I really enjoyed, no doubt due to Colbert. Many complain about the lack of historical accuracy but I could care less; I'm a Classics buff but I loved this art deco revision of the ancient world. I also enjoyed the genre mixing: not just a historical piece, it also has elements of screwball comedy (the entire Cleopatra/Antony sequence). The direction is great and the sets are marvelous.

 

Mask of Fu Manchu: Watched twice, first time I thought it was okay, second time I found it a bit wearisome. I enjoy the unusual direction and the strong shots but the cringing main girl is annoying and the whole movie's basically just a torture scene. Karloff I thought was great.

 

Dr. X: Like Fu Manchu, saw this on the Masters of Horror DVD set. This one I only thought was okay...the washed-out technicolor print gave it an eerie quality but I was gutted to see Fay Wray as a brunette! (Yes, I know she wore a wig in King Kong...)

 

King Kong: And speaking of which -- I got the 2DVD release in the metal tin; this was the first time I've seen King Kong since at least the '80s. I was floored! This movie is fantastic. Not sure if I'd seen all the "cut" stuff before (ie Kong tearing off Wray's clothes, the extra violence, etc), but I was shocked at some of the material...Kong really tears people up in this! Putting them in his mouth and chewing on them, etc. Also this movie has some of the greatest screams in film history, and not just from Fay Wray -- Denham's men let loose some fantastic (and funny!) shrieks throughout the entire jungle sequence.

 

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: I bought the DVD release that has this and the 1941 version (which I likely won't even watch). I thought this movie was great; I'd never seen it before. Again, some shocking material, and some inventive directing -- and I thought Fredric March was great. Usually the complaint is he's "stiff" in his roles (which is true enough -- just check out "Sign of the Cross"), but here he is dynamic; Jekyll and Hyde not only look different, they MOVE differently; one could almost believe they're portrayed by two different actors.

 

I also picked up the Universal Pre-Code Hollywood DVD set...

 

The Cheat: I liked the "oriental" look of this, but otherwise it didn't do so much for me. The branding scene was unexpected, but I just couldn't see why anyone would stick around with such a troublesome wife.

 

Merrily We Go to Hell: I enjoyed this one. Another good Fredric March performance. I know it wasn't the filmmaker's intention but I really wanted a drink after seeing this! Well shot and well performed, with an "adult" feel -- not some watered-down "afterschool special" about the dangers of drinking too much. For some reason that quick moment during the wedding scene, where we see March's pal, the best man, shaking due to being drunk...it's just stuck with me and I feel bad for the guy.

 

Hot Saturday: Didn't enjoy this one much at all. I liked Cary Grant in it but otherwise it just went on and on. No matter how long I kept watching it, it just wouldn't end!

 

Torch Singer: The gem of the boxset. I love Claudette Colbert and she SHINES here. I'm a straight male with no kids (married, though) but I fully enjoyed this movie about a single mother turned notorious torch singer turned children's radio show performer. I've already watched this one twice and will no doubt watch it a few more times. I'm positive I wouldn't like it as much if it didn't star Colbert. She gets to play a variety of moods and manners in this, and she's believable in every one of them.

 

Murder at the Vanities: Another one I wasn't crazy about. The "marijuana" song was okay and I enjoyed seeing Victor McLaglen (when I was a kid in the '80s I was hooked on this movie AMC would play often, starring him and Freddie Bartholomew -- "Professional Soldier" from 1935), but the movie just bored me. Maybe it's because I don't like musicals.

 

Search for Beauty: I liked this one, every sleazy minute of it. As if created to flaunt the lack of rules in the Pre-Code world of Hollywood. Buster Crabbe was good but the best was the "brains" behind the scam -- Robert Armstrong, in a role very similar to his Carl Denham in "King Kong."

 

Up next:

 

Most Dangerous Game

The Lost Patrol

Little Caesar

Public Enemy

Call Her Savage

The Scarlett Empress (I can't wait to see this one -- I just ordered the UK DVD release, by Universal -- the picture quality is much better than the grainy Criterion release from a few years ago)

 

Message was edited by: perfectpawn

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Someone at work gave me a copy of THE BOWERY off FMC. I couldn't believe the number of racial and ethnic slurs in that one. I don't think they missed offending anyone, Blacks, Chinese, Italians, Irish, and women. Jackie Cooper referring to women as "hairpins" was one I hadn't heard before. And that was the least offensive. I've seen a lot of pre-codes, but this was a shocker.

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According to Mark Vieira in his excellent book, Sin In Soft Focus, pre-code is generally used to describe films made between March 1930, when the Production Code was adopted, and July 1934 when it was amended and enforced. But I think most of us narrow the meaning down to films during that period that still contained the more risque elements that the Code was meant to stop.

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And your post seems to imply you have TOO MUCH time on your hands.

 

Of the movies I "listed" below, 6 of them were from a PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD DVD Collection.

 

Two of them were from the Legends of Horror -- and while the more pedantically-inclined might argue that "Dr X" doesn't meet your strident reguirements for "Pre-Code," Mask Of Fu Manchu certainly does.

 

Sign of the Cross and Four Frightened People BOTH feature scenes of nudity and adult themes which were censored by the enforceement of the Code.

 

King Kong was edited after the enforcement of the Code.

 

So that leaves Cleopatra...which itself features female nudity in the credits sequence.

 

Yes, I really MUST consider everything before 1934 "Pre-Code." Who are you, the Joseph Breen of the board? We need to get your clearance for our posts?

 

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Watched "The Lost Patrol," really enjoyed it. Got it from the John Ford DVD collection.

 

According to George Turner's "Cinema of Adventure, Romance, and Terror," the Code tried to enforce changes on this one, removing some salacious comments from the soldiers and etc. However they were unable to remove all they wanted -- I'm betting if this movie had been made after the Code was enforced, it would've come out neutered. It has a fantastic "war is meaningless" message which predates "The Thin Red Line"...and does a much better job relaying said message.

 

One thing I'm betting the Code would've changed is the great line Reginald Denny delivers to Boris Karloff's character -- Karloff plays Sanders, a hardcore Christian who tries to instill his values on everyone. (Again, post Code, Sanders would've been the hero!) Anyway, Denny's telling a story of the women he's been with and Sanders pounces on him, tells him to forget the sins of the flesh and move to Christ. Denny brushes him off; Sanders asks him WHAT he believes in. Denny's line is worth repeating:

 

"A good horse; steak and kidney pudding; a fellow named George Brown; the asinine futility of this war; being frightened; being drunk enough to be brave -- and being brave enough to be drunk; the feel of the sea when you swim; the taste and strength of wine; the loveliness of women; the splendid, unspeakable joy of killing Arabs; the smell of incense -- and bacon; the weight of a fist; an old pair of shoes; toothache; triumph..."

 

Mind you, all of these are things he believes in RATHER THAN Christianity...I think the Code would've struck that right out of the script.

 

Minor spoiler -- another thing I learned from Turner's book: Frank Baker portrays both the leader of the Arabs (in mask and turban) as well as the leader of the British troops who appear at the end. Sort of reminds me of that old saw about how the same model posed as both Jesus and Judas in Da Vinci's "Last Supper."

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Just watched "The Most Dangerous Game." Got the DVD that features the B&W and the colorized version. Of course, I watched b&w. Picture was (apparently) restored, so it was sharp and clear.

 

Enjoyed it. Hard to believe how many movies have lifted this simple tale. I don't think it was as good as King Kong (same production company and set) but really, Fay Wray looked fantastic in it (natural brunette and all!), and it was very much an edge-of-your-seat finale. I daresay the "mounted heads of former victims" wouldn't have made it in the post-Code world; indeed, only "Sin City" comes close to capturing the savagery, and that movie was made a few decades after this.

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I apologize for the viciousness of my reply. Joseph Breen was the SOB who encforced the Code and basically ended the glory days of the Pre-Code years; my comparison of him to you was unjustified and again, I apologize. I've been going through a rough patch lately. I've been known myself to be a sarcastic, vindictive SOB and I'm trying my hardest to turn a new leaf. (And to further the comparison, my birth name is Joseph!)

 

However, your comment is justified. I do follow the Viera school -- I think everything produced between 1929 and 1934 constitutes as Pre-Code, even if said production lacks the "outrageous" merits we expect in "true" Pre-Code films. My argument is that these films were made BEFORE the Code was enforced; therefore, it's hard to say WHAT exactly would have been changed in a post-Code world.

 

Of my reviews though I would say "Dr X" isn't really "Pre-Code" in the least. Fay Wray does look pretty great in it, though.

 

Her and Colbert. I say, those Pre-Code movies just had the most incredible actresses....

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By the by, re: The Lost Patrol...

 

One thing Denny says is that Malaysian women "should be burned alive by age 21."

 

I really doubt my Malaysian wife would agree with that...!

 

Just goes to show that some of the elements of these Pre-Code movies really ARE a bit offensive these days...

 

Then again, "miscegenation" was an offense in those days. What a word, really. It was like they made it as big as they could to mask their racism...

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I'd have to say "It Happened One Night." I know it came out right as the Code was enforced, but technically it was made during the party of the Pre-Code years. It's very tame, but it is incredibly entertaining. An old movie anyone can enjoy, even those who for whatever reason don't like b&w films. And what's funny is how modern day romantic comedies still follow its template.

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If you want to learn more about pre-codes and be entertained in the process, pick up the Forbidden Hollywood Collection VOL 2. Besides some great pre-code movies, it has a very entertaining documentary called Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood, which contains clips from about 50 pre-code films. Seeing this documentary on TCM one night got me hooked on pre-codes. The set also contains the movie, Night Nurse, which is probably my favorite pre-code. Stanwyck and Blondell were outrageous together.

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Finance, if you're looking for a movie that's truly Pre-Code which is tame and yet entertaining, then I implore you to check out "The Torch Singer" on Universal's Pre-Code Hollywood DVD set. A Claudette Colbert feature, it's from 1933 and it's tame yet pre-Code; the story revolves around an unwed mother, something that would be verbotten in the post-Code years. And Colbert GLOWS in the movie.

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