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Breaking the Commandments With Pre-Code Hollywood
Cinema Junkie / February 1, 2019
Films made between 1930 and 1934 have come to be known as pre-Code and display defiance of the self-censorship rules Hollywood laid down for itself. I will talk about the delicious naughtiness and sensational social realism of these films with Danny Reid of Pre-Code.com.
Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS cinema Junkie podcast. I'm Beth Accomando.
But I'm good I'm very good but when I'm bad I'm better.
Okay that's just a tease of what's to come. A cinema Junkie returns from holiday break to do an episode all about pre code Hollywood young life.
Are you trying to show contempt for this court. No I'm doing my best to hide.
That's one of the volunteer programmers for film geeks San Diego. I'll be co presenting two yearlong film series at Digital Jim cinema in San Diego. One is visions of science fiction that provides a diverse sampling of sci fi films. One Monday night a month and the other is called breaking the commandments pre code Hollywood which is one Sunday afternoon a month. This pre code series is dedicated to showcasing films made between 1930 and 1934 in Hollywood.
This era has come to be known as code because it was a period of time when the Hollywood film industry chose to ignore the restrictive production code that dictated what could and could not be shown in films. Both series kicked off last month in pre-cut Hollywood continues this Sunday with I'm no angel in the sci fi series continues on Monday with the delicious cult film themed without a face.
That's not all. The entire spinal cord is missing. It's incredible. Because it's a mental vampire at work.
In order to provide some insight into what pre-cut Hollywood is all about. I spoke with Danny Reid of Pico dot com. He describes himself as dedicated to celebrating Hollywood films released 1930 to 1934 when movies were complex and a hell of a lot of fun. I couldn't agree more. I spoke with Danny briefly for PBS midday edition last month. But here we get to talk about all the films in the series and more in depth about what pre code is all about. I met Danny at the TCM Classic Film Festival where pre-cut films are gloriously showcased.
In fact seeing a series of pre-cut Hollywood films at the TCM festival is precisely what inspired my CO programmer Miguel Rodriguez and I to pursue a film series dedicated to movies made during this era. We were thrilled to discover that the cinephiles coming to the digital gem cinema were also interested in these movies and voted to select it as the theme for one of our yearlong series in 2019. Pre code is the time when Mae West could openly proclaim that a hard man is good defined and Norma Shearer could respond to her husband's adultery with some sleeping around of her own so she could tell her philandering spouse off balance the accounts.
The surprise of these films is how modern they sometimes feel and in some ways they represent a sort of freedom that Hollywood movies never quite recaptured with the same gusto and deliciousness.
I began my interview with Danny Reid by asking him what defines this pre code era pre-cut Hollywood's an interesting era in the studios is kind of between the start of the talkies like just right after they say firmly established what a talkie is. It goes from early 1930 to mid 1934 to the point where studios actively had to submit their scripts to get them approved from a censorship board already at the made. So the coat era is kind of that time between this kind of newfound freedom and newfound art form with the talkies and the mid 1934 where it very much became like you could only make films on certain topics with certain attitudes and which continued from the mid 30s until about the 1950s 60s.
So the production code was on the books during these early years. But what do you think led to Hollywood just disregarding the code and going kind of wild.
Well definitely the depression is a major factor in their 1932 33 about a quarter of all Americans are out of work since going to movies which is still pretty much pretty much the only big entertainment option for Americans was one that took a big hit like up until then movies made money ever more money every single year than the year before it and when the depression hit studios began to get really worried. Before the depression they'd leveraged a lot of their their money they taking out huge loans to turn all these theaters into places with sound wire all the different theaters across the country.
You mean you have to imagine in 1929 all the major studios Fox or Warners MGM were spending millions and millions of dollars in 1930s money to go to every theater in every town and put sound equipment and set their talkies kid coming and appreciate it and so they were heavily heavily leveraged and so they really had to find a way to not only compete with each other but compete with you know food and basic necessities. So they really kind of went all out there they they really felt the freedom to not only be like salacious you know with Mae West and going to these these places that you know just to appeal to the baser instincts they also felt compelled to show what what life was really like an American those times even would have a little bit of MGM gloss or a little bit of Warner Brothers edge.
They really kind of tried to engage the consumer with exactly what they wanted and more often that you find a lot more popular things a lot more risque things in this era than you find in most hybrid productions for the next 20 30 years.
Looking at these films from a modern perspective I'm often surprised but what I find either scandalous sex comedies or gritty and unsavory portraits of Depression era life. What do you think it is about these films that continues to fascinate us.
What really holds holds interesting in these movies and you have to understand you know it's it's hard and nowadays we have a phone you have YouTube you have all these different media access points where you know if you want to be entertained it takes you more than five minutes to be entertained you're the one doing something wrong. But back in the day movie theaters were it if you want to go to movie theater or if you wanted to spend a night either being you know doing enjoying something you either went to the movie theater you listen to the radio and movies are competing with the radio as well.
So these movies these were made over the course a few weeks and released just a few weeks later. They're just it makes it really interesting because they're just like little snapshots of an era or an attitude or a feeling you can see you know the rise and fall of the gangster film in a few years or backstage musical comedies how they go on a roller coaster ride from Gold Diggers of Broadway to gold diggers 1933 to gold diggers in 1935. And you see how much film changes in just that that brief snapshot of time there's so much this this era that's just fun and unbridled them.
You know the Mae West movies which I'm sure we'll talk about where she was big controversy on Broadway and she came over to Paramount pretty much got to do what she wanted. She made these really interesting statements on 1930s feminism and some stuff that still seems pretty radical.
I'm caught between two evils I just I like to pick the one I never tried. I am delighted I have heard so much about you.
But you can throw this thing a lot of these movies were rediscover kind of in the 60s and 70s when some of the studios actually started pulling stuff actively from their vaults and people even then were surprised by exactly what they. They got away with what they could do. I mean nowadays some of this stuff does seem kind of trite but I mean I watched a movie the other day with a bunch of you know fart jokes in it and I'm like oh this is 1934. Like I can't. You know you don't ever think about what your your great grandfather great great grandfather watching a movie with fart jokes and laughing his butt off you know Danny you're a young guy.
So how did you get interested in these films from the early 1930s.
Well I mean I always kind of watched older films. My parents my dad really kind of got me going when he introduced me the Marx Brothers when I was in high school. The big kickoff or just delving into pre code Hollywood. I've always I always consume movies like crazy. I just I literally last week kept my nine thousandth rating on MTBE because I just obsessively track things. But the big thing that got me going into pre-cut and specific was I rented the forbidden highway collection for the library and I just started blogging and I was trying to just create content which is what everybody tries to do nowadays is content content content.
I rented the forbidden Hollywood collection when I watched the divorce. I was just kind of taken aback by how it looks like the attitudes in it.
I discovered there's more than one man in the world while I'm young and there was me. Believe me I'm not missing anything from now on. I don't doubt it. Once a woman throws down our fence I can see that women great but nothing will make them a loser they are the more they get the best in the world. No responsibility. Well my dear I've got to find out how they do it. Don't put me in the future where the roses grow and come and play with the rest from me.
You're the only man in the world. My daughter is close to.
There's so much forgiveness and grace given enormous share and now. Really like counter pose like a lot of Hollywood movies I'd seen from before then and since then I've watched a lot more freakout films and you can see where the ripples from that are but just the divorce they just kind of like knocked me back and like normal year performance and the look of the movie just kind of bugged me over so yeah really the divorce day was a big kick off Babyface redheaded woman which redheaded woman is just pure insanity and you watch it and you realize it's like the top 10 movie of the year it came out you just amazed because that movie has you know psych like the main character is basically psychotic.
I'm on my way up to the boss's house with a nail fight a secretary doing it cause I swiped it off her desk. These are important and they've got to be answered right away. Maybe I'll get a chance to stay and take dictation. How did that get you. Don't be down. His wife's in Cleveland.
There is nudity in the movie for you know 1932 and then there's a happy ending somehow. It's it's just like stunning. Like you you know it's it's nothing you'd expect from that era but it's it's fun and it was insanely popular so it's hard to resist stuff like that.
One thing about the films from this era. Like I'm no angel the divorce say redheaded woman that you're struck by how strong these female personalities were.
Oh yeah. It's really interesting you have to also put yourself back and realize that most of the moviegoing population in early 30s were women. They're the ones with the leisure time. They're the ones who needed to get out and do something with friends. So a lot of movies were geared towards them and nowadays there's a definitely a feminist backlash to movies where you know good Joan Crawford movie where they fall in love and the guy turns out to be helium. Joan Crawford says go be happy and she suffers. There's a lot of movies where the heroine suffers at the end but it's still about how strong she is in her suffering.
It's not about just making her miserable for the sake of it. And a lot of those movies we've mentioned to redheaded woman Anita Loos wrote the screenplay for that divorce is based on a book by Ursula Parrott. There's still a lot of female influence in this era even though especially with the like the conglomeration of the big studios the mid 20s they started forcing more female filmmakers out of there. There is still Dorothy RS NR one of the great female directors she made Merrily we go to hell and I think 32 that's one of the.
That's a really great pre code as well it's all about alcoholism and Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney give great performances in it. But you're right. Look this is an era dominated by female stars because it's interesting when sound came in so many male stars just kind of lost their footing. Douglas Fairbanks senior was pretty much gone at that points. John Gilbert his disastrous career. But you know people came in. You get this is the era of Cagney and Gable. They're just kind of hard brusk men.
But they're just so you know charismatic and fascinating but they're charismatic and fastening from a woman's perspective as well. I don't know. There's there's a lot of interesting things going on here. But you're right the this is a really great era for strong female protagonists.
Well one of the films we're going to be showing in our pre-cut series is I'm no angel and this is Mae West. And she was really a force behind the camera as well as in front of the camera.
She definitely had a lot of sway over her movies. I was based on one of her her plays. West had been arrested in New York on obscenity charges for forming her play called sex which nowadays the play itself sounds kind of trite but back then it was a revelation. And Mae West is one of those really fascinating figures who you know openly hung out with homosexuals and transsexuals and she was just very freewheeling and a very big personality in a time where there was just completely out of left field. So what happened in the early 30s is that the censorship board back in the early 30s it said no studios are allowed to make a movie with Mae West it's just it's you know it'll just it'll destroy America don't do it.
But by 1932 1933 things were dire enough that Paramount said May you come here and you make whatever the heck you want. I'm no angel and the follow up She Done Him Wrong to the top grossing movies the year she done wrong was nominated for best picture which is insane but the I'm no angels probably her best movie. It's really interesting it's kind of a statement on her values. I mean there's an entire court battle at the end where she justifies her entire man eating persona and she you know she thinks she gets a standing ovation at the end.
Lovely tie. Mr. Brown aren't you the man that I the five wives. Yeah. And he was married to one of them when you stepped out with me wasn't it. Yes keep him. You made it sound kind of nasty the way you spoke about us to being alone together in my place and you know nothing actually happened that you couldn't tell your grandchildren about. Well I was just a harmless little social date wasn't it. Yeah okay. I'm through with you. I'm a doer.
She's just got such a beautiful way with words. It's telling somebody with the other day my fair one is probably a hard man is good to find you know stuff along those lines where she just plays a double entendres and it's just for the time. Even today they're they're startlingly fun and pointed and really kind of speak to a lot of hypocrisy apparent in our current patriarchal society.
And she could also make a completely non double entendre sound suggestive.
Yeah she definitely she had a really good handle on on using her body and using her words. And that's why she's such a great cinematic force in some of her films too.
She had some amazingly suggestive songs. The one that I always remember is where has my Easy Rider gone. JOHN Oh I wonder Well my. My mind. Was when. I was. Talking about actresses one of the things you mentioned Norma Shearer in the divorce. And we're gonna be showing that film as well.
And one of the things about that that I think is kind of striking for a contemporary audience to look back on is that she's allowed to kind of fool around and be unfaithful in the same manner as her husband and not have to be punished for it.
I mean there are people who argue that ending back up with just DeMaurice is a punishment. But yeah I know exactly what you mean. She really does the whole movie is her. She realizes her husband has been unfaithful to her so she says I'm in it. You know no men's door only man's door is closed to me now is yours. And so she goes on this wild cavorting she ends up being Conrad niggles mistress which is not great but you know still fun. So she really does do the freewheeling divorce is the divorce they had a cachet back in the day of just these sexually experienced woman who were who were who were very worldly and they really play with that.
It's really interesting movie it feels very adult very driven but it's also very sexy definitely the scenes where sheer balances the books with her husband with Robert Montgomery who's never looked better than that movie my opinion she definitely exudes this kind of worldliness and intelligence that a lot of movies don't have. And she you know you you're always with her you understand why she's doing this and he can also see what's making her happy and what isn't a lot of people thinks the ending is kind of a cop out. I think it does make sense based on what what happened before but you are kind of rooting for her to break free of the 1930s even though she doesn't quite make it there.
You also have brought up Barbara Stanwyck and Babyface and this is kind of one of the the grittier films that came out during this time.
And but it looks kind of very clear eyed at women who don't have a lot of options and who may get used by men.
Yeah. Babyface is absolutely fascinating. It takes this character who's been treated like as a prostitute entire life by her father which is gross and then reads her Nietzsche philosophy that tells her to get ahead using any means necessary.
Well the future looks very bright just as I was leaving the cemetery and Sybil made me a proposition. And last night the manager the star and got a burlesque has offered me a job in the chorus to do a strip back to pay.
Yeah show my shape. They're doing a business in itself. Well I guess I ain't much of a business woman.
What's going to become of you. It's up to you to decide if you stay in this town you are lost.
Where would I go. Paris I got four bucks.
That's what makes you mad at you. You're a con. I mean I don't get equal you don't make. Sense is a woman got more chances than men. A woman young beautiful like you can get anything she wanted to vote the cause you have. Oh I mean look you're my huge man. Not that unusual. You must be I must go. Not afraid. Look you can face all night no matter how we idealize. It is not a war not like exploitation. That's what I'm telling you. Thanks for your help.
Oh just some digging that you will find opportunities. You mean beast it's high on your man. You'll get dark angel.
So you literally follow her as she works her way up a build office building through managers and subordinates until she is married to the head guy of the entire bank. And there's really very little subtlety. The movie is very frank with exactly what she's doing how she's working the working things in her favor. It's really interesting her character is so hard bitten and boiled but she's still completely believe in her and her faith in her is it's baby face is so interesting the movie itself was censored on release it was so controversial and they had to the original ending wasn't shot.
The shot different ending. And then they had to go back and shoot a completely different ending like a fake really happy ending which is just gross and weird but thanks to the magic of living 80 years later we can see he originally shot ending which is which isn't great but it's also very dark and very bitter about just what kind of way what can happen to you and way of life is the way the world is Baby Face is a great movie for seeing how the world looked to the Great Depression and seeing how little our women at the time had Stanwyck.
Character has a friend named Chico a black woman and they really stick together work you know they have to survive together it's really interesting to see that dynamic.
You definitely get a lot of that outside of your eyesight your imitation of lifes and kind of an even darker take on kind of the same terrain as baby faces.
The story of Temple Drake story of Temple Drake is another really interesting movie. It really adapts to William Faulkner novel that's really was considered like indecent that goes into it has all sorts of things like rape and prostitution happen to this poor character. But the way the film ends up being made it's kind of vanished but it was so controversial like the subjects and it really there's really no subtlety to exactly what Temple Drake goes through. It's one of those movies that's very stylish she's shy. I think it was a paramount film.
Miriam Hopkins is one of the great starlets of the pre-cut era who really didn't survive the era very well. Unfortunately she kind of got typecast as high pitch shrews and Betty Davis movies after after 1934. But she's in a lot of really great and daring movies and she's super. She's one of those actresses who just conveys the sense of intelligence and daring and Temple Drake you'd see her kind of horrified. But then in other movies I mean at the time especially something like designed for living she's a much more flirtatious and coquettish brilliance.
You know yes we're also showing design for living and since we bring that up that brings up Ernst Lubitsch the director and design for living is one of those films that is so kind of delightfully suggest its language and visual style.
Yeah. Oh well Lubitsch is like one of the greatest film like if not the greatest filmmaker. He is one of the greatest filmmakers. He is just such a beautiful way of dialogue and using the camera to suggest and entice and do you know seduce design for living is really interesting especially when you pair it with his movie from the previous year. Trouble in paradise which both movies kind of involve a love triangle but in trouble in paradise it's a man with two women and design for living it's a woman with two men and design for living it's very blatant about how Miriam Hopkins wants to sleep with both men and how the two men.
Frederick march and Gary Cooper kind of have to make do with you know being the other you know being with each other. It's a gentlemen's.
Agreement. Maybe a bit difficult in the beginning but it can be worked out to Brian save lots of time. It's true we have a gentlemen's agreement.
But unfortunately I am no gentleman.
It's super fun it's very interesting like just how how much he has to use euphemism and how much he can get away with saying and luckily Lubitsch was considered such an artist because he was that he actually got away with a lot more than a lot of other filmmakers did but design for living is just like nowadays even it seems so free and so so glorious I guess.
And he was known I mean Ernst Lubitsch was known for the Lubitsch touch. So he's somebody who has this particular kind of grace and style and is associated with these kind of screwball comedies I guess.
Yeah like it's a screwball they're just very very charming very witty. Like there's a lot of good use of dialogue and like visual metaphor in both design for living in trouble in paradise. He just really uses the camera to make make things just to mean trouble in paradise. The title zooms it starts with trouble in and it's superimposed over a bed. It takes a minute for the word paradise to pop up. There's a lot of real wit in his movies like I've been trying to track down all of his films and it's a very worthwhile endeavor he's just never disappoints.
Now I actually met you at one of the TCM film festivals and they make a point of highlighting some of these pre code films. And one of the ones that I got to see at the festival that was a total surprise and a total delight was something called cock of the air.
I'm so glad you guys got cock in the air. That movie is as is so I mean it's not a great film like Don't get me wrong but it's so interesting. The restoration they did on that day. They found the censored version and eventually like years later they found the uncensored footage and they had to recreate the dialogue from the censored footage in the script.
So you really see how they censor the movies like how exactly they they looked at films and what they would cut away at the time to try and make it seem less offensive to the many conservative audiences out there. So cock of the air is such a great example of how movies are censored and how that can completely change things. Here's like an entire ten minute sequence that gets excised where like she's I think she's running around in a suit of armor and so because they get rid of that because there's some very suggestive stuff that happens they have to cut around it in a different era.
You know like in one places two things and then one thing gets cut out. The second thing doesn't because the first thing refers to another part that got cut out. So it's very much interesting scene in the movie is like a puzzle. And how exactly they did that and I'm trying to imagine what the movie would be like with the footage missing cognitive areas very goofy and very fine. It's just it's a really great example of of movies and how they they were treated at the time.
Yeah. That one was so much fun at the TCM Film Festival that when we were debating what films to show and I will say it was a very difficult process to narrow it down to originally we're going to only show 12 films one a month. And then we threw in a couple of double bills because we had such a hard time.
Oh yeah I know how that is. Yeah it's hard to pick your favorite sometimes and there you are. You did pick like a lot of really great examples. I'm glad you're showing Island of Lost Souls on Halloween are White Zombie both those in October. Yes. There's a lot of fun.
Well and that's another aspect of these petticoat films is there was there there was a subgenre of horror films that came out during this time that were able to do some things that they weren't able to do and some later films and we have island lost souls White Zombie mascots Fu Manchu and most dangerous game or that for kind of horror. ESC films that were showing.
Yeah I mean not take too far away. This is also the time where Dracula The Mummy Invisible Man all those movies or the Universal horror movies were coming out. So this really interesting era where they're kind of pushing back at what science can do what mysticism is what exactly you could do in a horror film that it's a talkie You know it's a long way from the canon the canary is in these movies especially like mascot Fu Manchu if it's really wild and out there racism which also features a scene of Myrna Loy ordering a white man whipped while she clearly gets sexually excited by it which is a lot of fun.
And then the most dangerous game has all these was one of the prey the most compact adventure movies ever made. Island of Lost Souls has a really weird look at crossing humans and animals and where the line between a human is and when an animal is. It also is gone into by murders the Rue Morgue which is another very messed up movie then White Zombie has another horror element about like you know self-control losing control you know all these movies kind of deal with the uncertainties that kind of lie around the edges of life.
And that was a real big fascination for the era. And since this is very much a beginning of the talkies there's a lot of new blood making movies you get a lot of really great films that then aren't afraid in that because they can take these extra risks come across a lot darker and a lot weirder than the movies that you'll get definitely layered down.
Well and then mascot Fu Manchu an island of Lost Souls you get the kind of exotic sexual woman in those Oh yeah. But but seeing Myrna Loy as this Asian femme football when we know that later on she's going to become the picture of domestic perfection in the thin man as you know Nora Charles to William Powell.
Nick Charles is so fascinating.
Yeah we went through such a fascinating career just because they really had no idea what to do with their in the silent movie she's popping up in supporting roles in the diva of Baghdad. I think she's one of the girls. I think she's a villainess. I can remember exactly but she she definitely plays like this exotic woman a lot of movies when you didn't get what's also a lot of fun it's 13 women which is like one of the first slasher films where she's a Javanese killer murdering 13 women who mock during college not 30.
I mean the movie is called 30 women She only killed like 11 people but it's one of those those things where she was just very much just like yeah she's Asian just will make her Asian and all these movies and then eventually she was in love me tonight which kind of helped change her career more towards comedy. And then she she very naturally evolved with the Thin Man movies into America's perfect wife. And you have her doing movies like The Best Years of her life. So it's it's a really weird roller coaster from mask a few minutes to two best years of our lives but she's just a perfect professional and all of these movies she's just so much fun to watch in.
Yeah and in most dangerous game we have Fay Ray who is also in the King Kong movie and in both King Kong and most dangerous game she exposes quite a bit of flesh which.
Kind of became a bit of a signature for her in those films.
Yeah. Fay Ray was our close workhorse. They put her in a lot of movies. I think there are cut scenes I've seen the stills from them from King Kong where you see a lot of Fay Wray like you definitely you're not supposed to say art is supposed to see Fay Wray was great and three the time she made a lot of really wild movies. She was in really one really good one where she played a lady lawyer Fay Ray played a lot of like very independent women. She'd kind of come over from the silent era as this great beauty and she ended up being in all kinds of films.
She's in Viva villa with with Wallace Beery. She plays this woman do you think is going to be the romantic interests. Instead she just insults them and torments him and he kills her and it's fun just this year become this crazy wild harpy. So but you're you know you're used to the Fay Wray scream. She didn't just do King Kong she also did during this time made that the two best to strip tentacle are films which were murders and numbers and remorse sorry Doctor X and murders in the wax museum which she definitely gets her the mileage out of her scream in both those films and those are great to track down their very beautiful movies.
Now one thing we haven't touched on yet from the pre-cut period are the musicals and we're going to be showing Gold Diggers of 1933.
And what would the musicals kind of tapping into that that hit us hit a real chord with audiences.
It's important remember that in 1929 musicals were brand new. You couldn't really do a musical in a silent film. So the musical genre goes through such a a wild ride through the early 1930s because the initial musicals were so wildly popular they just made musical after musical after musical so by 1930 like late 1930 people were just refusing to see them on principle. They would for making like a thousand musicals in 1932 making like 200 next year and even fewer after that until Busby Berkeley came and made 40 seconds three at Warners.
And that movie was such a revelation that the kind of revive the entire genre and the great thing about Busby Berkeley Warners is he was at the studio. That was very much sought to portray the troubles of the of the you know the small man the forgotten man the the common man. So Forty second Street and foot parade are all very like gritty kind of had of like a fun edge to them. But this is the studio that made him a fugitive from the train wreck changing and Public Enemy so gold diggers 1933 which I will say is my favorite movie ever made guilders a 3 three is kind of this melding of all these different sensibilities all of these different moments that Warner Brothers it kind of everything they've been building up to in terms of light comedy and great supporting cast of talky stars for the ERA mixed with this very sets this very real sense of despair and frustration based on like a quartet of female characters who were all very distinctive and have their own personalities in their own feelings going through this really like how many plot it also ends with an amazing gut punch about just how we treat people and how how America's doing at the time.
I don't know if he deserves. Forget just everything.
That's all right with me. I was satisfied just along from day to day. Till I came took my man away.
Remember my forgotten man. You put a rifle in his hand.
You sent him far away. You shouted. Hip hooray. Look at him today remember my forgotten man.
You had him cultivate the land. He walked behind a plow.
The sweat fell from his brow. Look at him right now. And once he used to love me.
I was happy then. He used to take care of me.
Would you bring him back again. Cause ever since the world began. A woman's got to have a man.
For getting him you see means your forgetting me like my my Forgotten Man. Remember for whom you've flown in.
It really is an amazing film. I love it to death.
And one of the things that some of these musicals did is they enjoyed kind of the backstage aspect and that was kind of a twofold thing one I think audiences enjoyed seeing kind of what goes on behind the scenes but also it allowed for them to indulge in a lot of women changing and long.
Yeah there was there's definitely a reason why there's a lot of vital dialogue and a lot of these films that said while women are getting dressed definitely Gold Diggers of 1933 has a lot of skin in it. The pattern in the park number is not subtle about what people are doing in the park. Maybe go a little bit beyond petting and then no ends with all the women have. Well first off you see all the women changing behind a screen that are better than they're all backlit so you get to see you get to look like a lot of these movies you get to let your imagination do a lot and then they all end up in basically 10 undergarments.
You know just to protect them from the men last shot of the musical number is Dick Powell smiling as he pulls out a can opener. There's a lot of like very sexual moments in a lot of these films and I will say I think a lot of it's actually pretty sexy which is I don't know. Something I don't see a lot nowadays where it's a kind of a healthy interest in female and male relationships.
Now another one of the strong actresses that came up during this period and she did musicals and she did dramas and she did comedies is Joan Crawford and it was very difficult to pick one film that she was in but we have possessed.
Yeah Joan Crawford has always been someone I've kind of struggled with because when you start getting into movies like I mean I can't I'm I'm a dude. That's a sad fact of the matter. My ethics are going to movies you read so many horror stories about Joan Crawford the shoulder pads the you know the mommy dearest all that stuff. It's really hard to go back and appreciate it. I mean for me I know of pray for other people's lot easier. It was hard for me to go back and be able to appreciate her films.
But you see her and stuff back in the early 1930s where she she makes these movies she makes a lot of movies about working girls who suddenly get it all but they lose the man they loved along the way possessed as one of the one of the best ones. It's her with Clark Gable which they were a fantastic pairing.
And it's just really kind of highlights the difficulties and the relationships he had and that that world she worked in and just how much a woman kind of had to rely on a man to be able to put food in her mouth. Possessed is a great when Sadie McKee is another great one from the time where proffer just has this this power and this strength and it's really easy to satirize Crawford.
I mean they did all the time back then too. But she does have such a great screen presence. I mean my favorite film of hers is still humorous. But she does so many great movies especially around this time that I don't blame me from. It's hard to choose for sure it is.
And another one who is hard to choose was finding one from Jean Harlow who was quite a sassy actress back in the day.
And we decided to go with dinner at 8:00 just because she gets to play off of Marie Dressler in such fun way. Up the other day.
Reading a book. Yeah. You know I make family family any kind of a book you know that the guy did that machine we are going to make up every patient. Oh my dear. That's something you need never worry about.
I mean if that movie does have like the best closing of any film for you know pretty much full time. But Harlow really has a lot of fun with that one. Yeah. HARLOW is such an interesting case because she pretty much is the the most popular actress I think at least one of her films is in the top 10 of highest grossing movies every year in the early 1930s and she has this this very much personality where it just seems like a dumb blonde but you know just like Jean Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe there's so much more going on underneath she really stands up for her own movies like redheaded woman and red dust.
She really you could tell she has this heart and the soul is she's a very realistic character a real human one I'm a dinner eight is a lot of fun because she really gets to kind of be the counterpoint to all the snobs in the film the bare Moors and the. And then she gets to deflate a lot wall spirit a lot which is always great great time.
And we decided to end our series with a gangster double feature and we're gonna be showing Scarface with Paul Muni and Public Enemy with Jimmy Cagney and these films.
I have to say they're very different from the other ones they're not like comedies.
They're not some kind of sex comedies are fun in that respect but they have a great to them and kind of a way of looking at the world at that time that is still kind of I don't know what a shocking but it's surprising to find that in these films from the early 1930s.
Yeah I mean a lot of gangster movies from then to now are very much still influenced by them like De Palma Scarface obviously takes love from the original. Scorsese he definitely takes a lot from Public Enemy as well. PUBLIC ENEMY HAS ONE OF THE GREAT downbeat endings for the time. People don't remember that though. But Cagney plays that movie so brilliantly it's hard to it's really hard to believe that he wasn't the originally the lead of the film who's supposed to be the sidekick if you can imagine Scarface is a like really great movie.
Howard Hawks directs the hell out of it. There's there's consider the three main gangster movies from this time which is Scarface Public Enemy a little Caesar and each one of the main characters have a kind of an offbeat obsession because these movies were made because it's really they're full of violence. They're full of sex but they're also supposed to be kind of a public warning because gangsters really were a problem then prohibition didn't until Roosevelt was like 10 32. So these you know you know bad gin and poisoned alcohol and gang wars and violence and massacres and kids getting killed in the street.
These were real concerns at the time. So Scarface Public Enemy Well there's definitely kind of a celebration of the gangster because of the time that that kind of outlook Linus was a lot more interesting than the Hoover police officers who weren't really do anything about it. These movies really kind of take and try to make and it had to go to the extremes to make their main characters look bad. So in Scarface you kind of have the incestuous ness between Tony and his sister played by the amazing end of Iraq. And then in public enemy you have canyons love for his mom which is just very deep but also a little weird.
And then Little Caesar has the whole homosexual element to it but you're not sharing that's we're not going into it.
Well those games are films too. They had such a pace to them and the way they depicted the violence was really impactful.
Yeah they do they really do portray this stuff because it is the stuff they saw on the front page every day. And you're right about the speed like most movies of this era were probably around an hour long 70 minutes 90 minutes if you're really have a lot of money to burn but a lot of these movies just move so fast. There's a lot of great ones you're showing night nurse as well which I didn't talk about the night nurse I think is around 60 Minutes and it's just thing after thing after thing it's leaves you breathless is just goes so fast but they're so well assembled like they just they move and they click.
It's a lot of fun to watch. They really kind of perfected that that sort of editing and pacing where they're getting the audience in and out. They need to make the money but they're also telling these these stories as hard and fast as they can.
Well and that pace and the short length of the films is one of the reasons why we double billed a few of them because you know it's 60 and 70 minutes you can put two of them on a double bill like you might have seen you know in some of the theaters back then.
Yeah especially like back then you know you just when you pay 25 cents you sat in the theater until you got to the part you hadn't seen before. It's so hard to imagine just walking to movie in the middle of the movie and just trying to figure everything out but some of these movies definitely just you'll notice like round every 10 minutes they'll recap everything you've seen and it's like Okay that's four that's the people who got in late trying to figure out what's going on. But that also leads to some of these movies where every 10 minutes something wildly different happens you're magic to be walking in and that has nothing to do with the beginning of the movie and in the beginning the movie starts they think they're in a different film.
You know it's it's a very interesting era for just how movies were made and assembled and because the way they were shown it because of the Depression it just really affected how much it's just really interesting how different movies were as an entity not just how their show now but how they were then.
Now you've dedicated a blog to writing about pre code films.
What have you kind of discovered over this the course of running the blog in terms of. Are there things that you've discovered about the films or kind of insights that you've formed regarding them.
Well I started when I watched the divorce.
I kind of felt this this and after I kind of fell in love with the era I felt like you know it'd be really great to just know something you know like know the ins and outs of certain years. There's there's other blogs like doing 70s movies or do certain years or directors and I felt like I really just wanted to know this era really well so that I would be able to appreciate all the subtleties and it's interesting that you start getting jokes in other movies because you know like in the 1930s this happened but this you know it wouldn't make sense to you unless you caught this reference in a different film.
I just feel like it's so interesting to see to kind of follow careers along like I've seen all the Barbara Stanwyck Prix codes now I've seen all the Cagney petticoats see almost all of the Joan blonde LP records just like 30 movies she made like 30 60 movies and in four years because Warners had no problem working people to death. And you really do see like the different experiences and how how repetitive plots could be but how different filmmakers could handle them. You get a really good feel of like what people felt was acceptable back then and what wasn't especially when you first start off in the talkies you really see like a lot of experimentation with with you know like 1920 70 through 30 you see a lot of experimentation with how you could shoot dialogue scenes where you can shoot them and then he kind of you can kind of feel their joy when they figure something out like in 1930s the big house there's an entire scene set or a tire shot in a solitary confinement ward where you're just looking down a hallway and there's two people on opposite side of the hallway having a conversation you can't see them because they're locked up in solitary confinement.
You can just hear them and you sob and you think oh yeah they couldn't have done the shot for years prior. No one made a sense at all. You know other things too like the lawyer picture really took off during this time there really wasn't the ability for you to have 20 minute ending you know arguments before this and now you have Lionel Barrymore stand up in the middle of a free soul and just belt out his entire life story and it just this whole era you watch as things evolve and they change.
I really like watching how how movies got away with stuff from 1930 to 1934. You can see a visible difference like I'm at the point where I can I can pretty much tell you a year the movie was made just based on watching it without having to note even that small period just because of different techniques that are being used different sets different actors and just how by 1934 it really felt like everything was kind of going off the rails you have movies that are so risque and out there that you can you can start to understand why they would want to censor them because they were really just getting into stuff like Tarzan and or May where there's there's full nudity and stuff like that.
There's just so many ways in which they kept pushing and pushing and pushing and it feels like a train just going going going. There's a lot of really interesting things you can observe just by diving into these years and then I always kind of sometimes I watched movies from 1935 and it feels like getting slapped in the face like oh wow ok now. And things are different.
OK so and if people want to find your blog where can they read it.
It's pretty hokum PR e dash see AECOM I update usually trying to once a week usually with new reviews and then I also lay out the schedules every month or what's showing on TCM. I also blog every year from the TCM Film Festival in April usually April and I post other things I have a patron if you want subscribe I usually post or send out fun stuff. So there's a big archive. I think I've reviewed about 600 movies petticoat films and there. So you should be able to find something to watch I hope.
And if not you're way more picky than I am.
So if they're going to be a day when you run out of pre-cut films to look at technically yes at some point there's stuff that's locked in the vaults that I can't get to and I did. You can use. I am D.B. Houston filters. I did figure out if I continue on the path of watching or reviewing for every month that I'll I'll eventually run out pretty good films in about 20 years. So when that day comes then I can I can hang up my keyboard with a sense of satisfaction but until then.
Still going and is it hard to find some them to watch.
Oh my goodness. Well it's there's a lot of different factors. Ownership is one. Like movies the fallen of public domain are very easy to find like like dangerous game but then you get to stuff where Warner Brothers thankfully think God owns the MGM and RKO and Warner Brothers they own all those films and they're very dedicated putting them on DVD and make them available. That's fantastic and makes me super happy. Universal and Paramount or Paramount doesn't own their universe own their films from that time so universal who owns the Paramount Universal films from that time are very slow and very much just we'll charge you twenty dollars for a single film from the era and they don't put them on digital at all it's just very frustrating.
You really kind of it's really kind of a blessing when you get to get one of those but even then there's so much there's still in the archives that you know it's hard to restore. It's hard to you know it's there's like one copy and one in the Library of Congress that you have to check out. There is one universal movie the seed from 1930 with Genevieve Tobin in it. I went to UCLA Film Archive and they have one DVD copy of it and I had to watch that and the DVD stops working halfway through so yay.
Hope I know. I hope I can figure out how that end someday. Yeah it's really interesting because there's so much territorial fights over copyright and who owns what one movie I spent a long time tracking down I finally watched was George White scandals in 1934 which I can 100 percent really understand why they wouldn't be thinking effort to put that on DVD or video or anything because there is some insanely racist stuff in there but it's it's one of those things where studios are very much about the bottom line because these movies are all still under copyright they're just orphans they're not going to they're going to languish in vaults until either public domain catches up with them or very very dedicated people go out and pry them out of the vaults at film festivals or the like.
So it's kind of it's kind of a fun thing about my blog is trying to track stuff down because it really can become kind of an adventure on its own.
That was Danny Reid of pre co dot com. The film geeks San Diego pre code Hollywood series continues February 3rd at 1 p.m. with Mae West and I'm no angel cinema junkie comes out every other Friday and if you enjoy the show please leave a review on I tunes are recommended to a friend. You listening right now are the best ambassadors we have for getting new listeners. Thanks to everyone who's already left reviews and shared the podcast. Cinema junkie will have something for Black History Month and the TCM Film Festival coming up and maybe a surprise from the archives.
Since I have three decades of interviews to pull from till our next film fix I'm Beth Accomando your resident cinema junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place