Forbidden Hollywood:

Warner treasures




Hiding behind this title are ten Pre-code movies: uncensored films full of young people with no self-consciousness or timidity!

The term “pre-code,” applied to movies, indicates a film shot before the Hays Code, established in 1934. Judging American cinema as misguided, the Hays Code prohibited depicting violent, sexual, political or social subjects immorally, but pre-code films were exempt from censorship. They are lively, feisty and festive works. No tragedies, very little drama, and a perpetual fighting spirit. And if there is lassitude among some characters, there is never discouragement. It is a luxury that especially the heroines of these flicks do not think of gifting themselves. Pre-code cinema is a glorious cinema of women.

The queens of Pre-code movies are often pretty and poor. In the cruel and superb Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933) an old man in a very subversive, intimate speech to the protagonist (the vibrant Barbara Stanwyck), orders her to use her beauty to dominate men! Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman (Jack Conway, 1932) is just as direct with herself as an outrageously sexual girl, who refuses to be scorned. From the opening scene of the film, with a focus on her garter held by a brooch bearing a small portrait of a man she desires, she displays her determination.


LILIANE Annex Stanwyck Barbara Baby Face Visuel

These femme fatales also know how to be good girls - not wild, and not forgettable. In Red Dust (Harlow again! Victor Fleming, 1932), a blond running from the law manages to charm the adventurer played by Clark Gable by making him laugh at her antics. In Night Nurse (William A. Wellman, 1931), Barbara Stanwyck stands up without indignancy against an authoritarian Gable, who hits women. Surprising, these girls have resources! Many are in the spirit of A Free Soul, like the film of the same name by Clarence Brown (1931). A true curiosity, the main character (Norma Shearer with her intelligent beauty), raised freely by an alcoholic father (the brilliant Lionel Barrymore) flirts with a dangerous man (Gable, in full physically-imposing, tyrannical mode). In a tight-fitting silk dress, braless, she gives herself to him in full awareness and an absence of defiance or judgement. And when trouble arrives, with Gable proclaiming that the heroine "belongs to him," she takes on the violent consequences without fear of scandal.

Pre-code films are adventure movies with over-active dialogue. The many characters negotiate everything for more in a world of crooks (Blonde Crazy, 1931, The Mind Reader, Roy Del Ruth, 1933, Jewel Robbery, William Dieterle, 1932). In the wonderful Employees’ Entrance (Roy Del Ruth, 1933) the heroine sleeps with a man of powerful charm (an ambiguous Warren William with the fine abrasive moustache, nicknamed the king of Pre-code) in exchange for a job. Like Baby Face, Employees’ Entrance features characters who reveal others to themselves through their terrible sides, but always towards a desire to live. This alone makes this series unmissable!


Virginie Apiou

Categories: Lecture Zen