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What is Pre-Code?


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Movies made between the late '20s and mid-1934, mainly involving men and women.


A strict Hollywood-industry "decency code" went into effect in mid-1934.


The Code began to be broken in the 1950s and '60s.


The Code was written around 1930, but not put into effect until about June of 1934.




Many pre-code films involved "adult situations" and some nudity. After 1934 they were locked away in Hollywood studio vaults, and did not begin to reappear until the 1970s and '80s.

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The precoders were the first old movies I explored in bulk. I figured they'd be interesting to watch simply because they are the oldest movies you can see that talked. Besides, so many popular stars commonly seen in the forties got their starts as hungry youngsters in precodes, so I expected to see some fascinating performances. I agree that many of them fail to measure up to preconceived expections and are really quite timid especially as they draw nearer towards their conclusions. The raciest moments usually come early in a precoder but then gravitate towards messages of moralism. Three distinquishable elements of such films characterize them specifically. They were made during the worst part of the depression, prohibition was still in effect, and the sound transition brought new faces to the screen who came without any former degree of silent era persona. This resulted in the tough attitudes that precode characters display almost as an instinctive exhibition of street survival. Since government entitlements were not forthcoming; people had to struggle using their wits. The wild party of the roaring twenties was now over and a hangover lingered. Of course the film-makers were unaware of anything even suggesting they were producing what we now call precode films; a term invented much later to categorize them. They were simply culling material from life and presenting it as realistically as censorship would allow, all the while fumbling with this new

sound technology. The suggestive innuendo and sexual situations we see, exist not as a rule, but moreover as a reflection of true-to-life happenstance. They were tough times and they should be mirrored as such. This too is probably why musicals which hit the movie scene hard in 1929, fell from favor so quickly in 1930 and 1931. The fanciful representations in musicals did not accurately reflect actual life drama taking place in the real world and film-makers recognized this ...


My humble take on it all ...


One of most telling precode scenes that comes to mind is in the film "If I Had A Million" where Richard Bennett presents Wynne Gibson with a gift of one million dollars. She's clearly a women of the evening, and once she finally believes the transaction is legit, she rents the finest suite she can find to get some much needed sleep in total comfort. She climbs into bed (alone for once) turns out the light, only to switch it back on realizing it's no longer necessary for her to be in bed wearing sexy fishnet stockings anymore ...

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