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Pre-Code Films


Guest TCMhost-Joy

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Guest darylcam

I know I'm late but I'd like to hear some more thoughts about Safe in Hell. Wellman smashes at least a dozen racial taboos before our eyes ("What is your pleasure sir?" Nina Mae McKinney says luridly to (is it?) Victor Varconi) Clarence Muse with a wonderful British accent; for a Black actor that was still twenty to thirty years away in film. Noble Johnson as one of the policeman taking a quick peek at Dorothy Mackaill as she ascends up the stairs, the strong hints of interracial sex between Ms McKinney and her "guests". You get the idea. Please post any info on Ms McKinney and while your at it your thoughts on the astonishing The Bitter Tea of General Yen. Wow.

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Darylcam, I liked both films! SAFE IN HELL is a lot more steamy, sexy, and "nasty" than BITTER TEA. Remember the scene where all the men are in the lobby, and Mackaill comes down those stairs? You can just feel the sexual tension in that scene! Doesn't one man even lick his lips? I also thought the movie hinted that Ms. McKinney was "familiar" with her guests. It was really a true pre-Code! I couldn't believe that ending! BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN also focused on interracial romance, but I found the use of the soft-focus lens to soften the whole feel of the movie. It is beautifully photographed, and I thought both Nils Asther and Stanwyck were excellent. Toward the end, he is very romantic and sweet. It is such an odd film, and the idea of interracial romance between an oriental and a white woman seems so mild today! I guess it was a shocker in the 1930's however. That's what makes pre-Codes so great. Hey, hang around here some more! We love pre-Codes here!

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Darylcam, the imdb.com had a wealth of info on this actress. Here's a brief summary of what I found. Go to the site to read the whole biography. Her birth name was Nannie Mayme McKinney, and she was born on June 12, 1913 in Lancaster, SC. Her parents later moved to NY, and Nina Mae lived with her Aunt Carrie. She got a job in a Broadway play, called "Blackbirds," and naturally caught the eye of director King Vidor, who put her in his 1929 talkie, HALLELUJAH. The movie was pretty universally panned, but Nina Mae wasn't! She was offered a five year contract by MGM. The problem was, though, that audiences weren't really ready to accept a black, sexy actress! Most roles that were offered to black actresses were the roles of maids. The studios just didn't know what to do with her! She had that marvelous role in SAFE IN HELL (1933) and in the 1935 movie RECKLESS her voice was dubbed in for Jean Harlow's singing voice. She went on to play in all black cast movies, some with legendary actor Paul Robeson. She also appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in Jeanne Eagles role in "Rain." She travelled to Europe and played in London, Paris, Dublin and Budapest. She appears to have been very successful over there--she was called "The Black Garbo!" When war broke out, she returned home and married a jazz musician named Jimmy Monroe. They formed a band together and toured the country. She worked practically until her death on May 3, 1967. Her work is largely forgotten, unfortunately. Her hometown of Lancaster, SC did honor her on their "Wall of Fame." A portrait of her resides alongside the other famous Lancasterians--including President Andrew Jackson! It's a sad commentary, I think, to have a talented actress (as SAFE IN HELL proves) but no movies in which to star her! I think she deserved better than this, and I was glad to see that she went on to a lifetime of entertaining, inspite of the lack of film roles! Hope this helps...really though, go to the imdb.com and look her up. There's more!

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Does anyone know who holds the "rights" to films made at the B-studios, like Mascot or those produced by companies like "Tiffany Productions," or "Sono-Art" and the like? It'd be kind of cool for TCM to show some of these pre-Code (or even later 1930's) B quality movies. I'm betting that some of these are decent! As far as I'm concerned, it'd be a cool regular time slot--and they could even put them on in the middle of the night, if they want. Anything new is good, in my opinion. Are a lot of these movies already on video? If so, what is a good company that sells them?

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  • 1 month later...

Can anyone tell me in what movie there is a clip of someone singing "Lon Chaney's gonna get you if you don't watch out?" I think it must be one of those all star vaudeville type revues. I can't remember if I saw the whole thing, or just a clip, but a singer is singing to a room full of little screaming girls. Help...plese!

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Thanks, Dan. You're right...it WAS bizarre! But it illustrates how big a star Lon Chaney was in the silent and transitional era. And who was Gus Edwards? Never heard of him. Vaudeville?

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Guest Dan, Coffee

By the time he appeared in HOLLYWOOD REVUE, Gus Edwards was legendary. He wrote dozens of popular songs; some of the best known are "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "Shine On, Harvest Moon," "School Days," and "In My Merry Oldsmobile." But he was probably better known as a kiddie impresario in vaudeville. His "School Days" and "Kid Kabaret" revues introduced lots of young talent. George Jessel, Eddie Cantor, Walter Winchell, Georgie Price, Bert Wheeler, and Eleanor Powell (to name a few) all got their start in Edwards' shows. The 1939 Bing Crosby musical THE STAR MAKER is partly based on Edwards' career.

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Wow, thanks again Dan, for the excellent information. I don't know why that particular clip of film was running through my head, except for the fact that it was mentioned that we might get to see a restored version of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Are the "School Days," and "Kid Kabaret" pieces shorts, and if so do they ever appear in the ONE REEL WONDERS? If so, I'll keep an eye peeled.

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Guest Dan, Coffee

No, Gus Edwards' "School Days" and "Kid Kabaret" were vaudeville revues that were popular in the 1900s up through the time of WWI. In "School Days," Edwards was the teacher who would ask his "students" questions, and they would respond with smart-alecky answers or get up and "recite." It's a formula still popular in today's sitcoms. The "Kid Kabaret" was presented more in the form of a social gathering where the boys wore tuxedos and the girls wore formal dresses and they would get up and perform specialties -- singing, dancing, patter and the like. Incidentally, George Jessel mentioned in his autobiography SO HELP ME that when he and Eddie Cantor were in "Kid Kabaret" around 1911, they performed in some experimental sound films for Thomas Edison. I don't know if the films exist today, although several of the early Edison sound films have survived.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Warren William forever! Why wasn't this guy a really major star? He had the looks...talent...the leading women...what in the world was holding him back? I've heard him referred to as the poor man's Barrymore. I don't know about that...I like him almost better than Barrymore (John, not Lionel. I love Lionel!) I love to watch any movie he's in! I'd be in movie heaven if they ever had a "Warren William, Star of the Month." I wish TCM programmed more of him films!

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I second your wish wholeheartedly, Alix. I simply swoon over Warren William myself. I love everything he's in. My first encounter of W.W. was in Golddiggers of 1933 when he played J. Lawrence Bradford. I LOVE the way he says "cheap and vulgar" repeatedly to Joan Blondell. You know he loves it. I agree with you in that he was so handsome and suave and talented. I don't know why he didn't shine brighter either. He is all but forgotten except for us fans and devotees of classic pre-codes. What a crime. He should be given his due as Star of the Month. Now wouldn't that be grand? I wouldn't mind sharing him with the world. But I will settle for more of his films on TCM any time soon.

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I also liked him in GOLDDIGGERS OF 33. I also thought it was sexy the way he said "cheap and vulgar" to Blondell. I was watching one of my favorite pre-Codes the other day, UNDER EIGHTEEN, and Warren says this to a lovely young "under 18" girl who shows up at his deco penthouse-of-sin for a pool party, "Why don't you take off your clothes and stay awhile." Have you ever seen THE MATCH KING? He's so rotten and horrible in it, but it doesn't make a bit of difference, because I still like him! I think I enjoy him the most when he's the seducer--so suave, so slick...what woman in their right mind would resist? He was really good in EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE with Loretta Young. Ah Warren...you're certainly not forgotten! Ladies are still turning weak in the knees over you!

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Guest K, Sandy

Hey all, next Wednesday, Oct. 2, TCM is showing a whole night of pre-codes from 1932! Here's the line-up, starting at 8PM EST: SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION Irene Dunne, Ricardo Cortez WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman THE AGE OF CONSENT Eric Linden, Dorothy Wilson SECRETS OF FRENCH POLICE Gwili Andre, Frank Morgan A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT John Barrymore, Katharine Hepburn THE CONQUERORS Richard Dix, Ann Harding THE ANIMAL KINGDOM Leslie Howard, Ann Harding I'm excited about this line-up. Could it be someone at TCM is reading these message boards? I hope so.

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Thanks Sandy, I'm excited too! I've seen WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD, BILL OF DIVORCEMENT and THE ANIMAL KINGDOM but I'm looking forward to the rest of those movies. Who is Eric Linden? Never heard of the man. As grateful as I am, I wish the pre-Codes were played more than just on October 2nd. I'd love to see a time slot, even if it was early morning, for pre-Codes to be programmed in on a regular basis. And as I've said before, go ahead and show some B-movies! They'd be okay by me! Anything new and different.

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Eric Linden was that one guy in THE CROWD ROARS (1932), have you seen that? I think he was in AH, WILDERNESS, which I saw on TCM recently (with Lionel Barrymore). I agree with you about the inadaquate showings of pre-code favorites--give them a regular time-slot TCM!!! (Not to be rude, or anything.) After all, we have Silent Sunday Nights...

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I watch soooo many pre-Codes, but have never seen CROWD ROARS or AH, WILDERNESS. I will have to watch and see who this guy is. I once even suggested a name for their pre-Code regulary time slot: Pre-Dawn Pre-Codes, since usually they appear in the midnight to 5:30 am time slot.

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You should see THE CROWD ROARS--it has James Cagney, Joan Blondell (she's soooo cute!) and Ann Dvorak (the only film I've seen of hers). I think Ann's in another pre-code film, THREE ON A MATCH. Have you seen that? AH, WILDERNESS features former silent child-star Baby Peggy (now Diana Serra Cary) in an uncredited role in the graduation scene, actually.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I loved THEREE ON A MATCH. It's one of those 60 minute movies that packs action into every minute! It stars Blondell, Dvorak, and a very young and pushed into the background Bette Davis! It also has that gorgeous Warren William, only this time he's not playing the bad guy! TCM's shown it, so perhaps if you request it they'll do it again. Great pre-Code viewing!!

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Phillips Holmes--does anyone else think he looks like Leonardo DiCaprio? Finally got to meet Eric Linden in some movie (sorry, name excapes me) that starred Phillips Holmes. Eric's character was named "Duke," and there was a college professor who was played by silent star Aileen Pringle! Eric was a good looking "fraternity boy" type of star. Did he ever do other type of roles? Especially after he grew out of that "frat boy" look?

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Guest Lyndsey

Hooraah, TCM is showing THREE ON A MATCH next Tuesday, the 18th--can't wait! Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Bette Davis AND Warren William? Yummy... Joan Blondell was always cute playing the star of the film's best friend (well, ok, she was cute in everything!). I also like Maureen O'Sullivan in her supporting/starring pre-Code roles (THE THIN MAN, SKYSCRAPER SOULS, TARZAN, etc.). Ann Dvorak was great in SCARFACE, and G-MEN (which technically isn't pre Hays Code, but I'll add it, anyway, since it's good). I'm guessing most have seen these...?

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Guest Lyndsey

I think the movie might have been THE AGE OF CONSENT ('32). i remember Linden and Aileen Pringle being in it, but not Phillips Holmes, though...Hmmm... If it was that movie, I caught a very young Betty Grable in an uncredited extra part in the dance scene. Heehee, she was so adorable! (Not that she wasn't always.)

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Guest K, Sandy

Alix, I believe the lead actor in AGE OF CONSENT was named Richard Cromwell. lolmsted and I were saying in another folder that he looked like a cross between DiCaprio and Jude Law.

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