The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
Message
Author
User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#51 Post by domino harvey » Sun Nov 18, 2018 11:12 am

(No to get off-thread, but I see that Robert Wise directed a remake with Jane Wyman and Sterling Hayden... Is it worth hunting down?)
I've only seen this 1953 version, and it left no impact on me either way

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#52 Post by knives » Sun Nov 18, 2018 7:50 pm

I thought it was pretty bad. One of Wise's worst though I also didn't remember Hayden being in it.

User avatar
Shrew
The Untamed One
Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:22 am

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#53 Post by Shrew » Sun Nov 18, 2018 8:22 pm

I've been trying to see and write up as many Wellman's as I can, initially as a guide in the 30s thread, but I'll probably never finish. (Blame Wellman for having too many co-director/replacement and just hard-to-find credits.) But So Big was what made me want to dig far deeper into his filmography, so I did have something written up:
So Big

Stanwyck’s father dies, she gets a job as a rural school teacher, then things speed up and 60 mins later we end with Stanwyck in an old lady wig. Also, Bette Davis shows up to steal the last 10 minutes. This has the bones of a standard Hollywood melodrama, but it’s so well told—simultaneously economical (to the point of absurdity) and filled with grace notes—that it transcends it. The film often looks to be heading one way, only cut to a new scene and a seemingly different plot. First it looks to be another innocent woman fallen into infamy story, then an inspirational teacher film, then an urbanite taken down by country life, then a polemic against country ignorance, then just… something else.

There’s more sentiment here than in the other Wellman pre-codes, but so many great little moments and asides that have fall more thought and style in them than most any other Hollywood film in this era: Stanwyck’s clean hands clasping the rough ones of a farmer’s wife, a country suitor jumping into a puddle then trying to scrape mud off himself, the back of a boy’s head turning to vent his grief, a brief but stunning long shot of a black-clad preacher standing before the gray sky in a barren winter landscape, a prostitute almost kissing a young boy on the lips before turning to his cheek. But Stanwyck is overly subdued throughout and there are clunky bits, namely how it links its extended chronology through call-backs that are neither as profound nor as memorable as the film thinks. Ultimately, it’s hard to argue that this is a great film, but is key evidence that Wellman was a great director.
So, a similar reaction to senseabove, though I think the extreme economy helps the film. In particular, there's a revelation midfilm that would be the climax of most melodramas, but here it hits far harder because it's nearly glossed over. I've not seen the Wise remake, but I feel like stretching it out could easily diminish it (though it could work, as senseabove suggested, fleshed out to a miniseries). It's arguably not the best example of a "pre-code" movie, as it isn't as salacious as most, particularly in its main arc/setting. It's more the little things that are pre-code, like the gambler father, or the brief meeting with the town prostitutes (and probably the flirtation/willingness not to marry in the last act). That said, I think all those factors really elevate the material and never feel exploitative, so maybe it's actually the best example of pre-code?

So uh, watch it, especially anyone who still has Filmstruck.

User avatar
Satori
Joined: Sun May 09, 2010 10:32 am

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#54 Post by Satori » Sun Nov 25, 2018 8:27 am

This is a cool list project! I really like the idea of treating the pre-code era as a distinct period apart from the mid-to late 1930s. As interesting as some of the risque stuff is, I think I am more interested in the formal differences between this era and the golden age of Hollywood. There is a particular genre of pre-code film that I think of as the "epic B-picture." That is, a film that paradoxically combines the narrative economy of the B-film with an epic scope that takes place over several years. So Big is a great example. This is an eighty minute film that skips around in time, covering Stanwyck's life as a girl, a young school teacher, a farmer's wife, and finally an old woman with a grown son.
I really like this observation:
Shrew wrote:
Sun Nov 18, 2018 8:22 pm
I think the extreme economy helps the film. In particular, there's a revelation midfilm that would be the climax of most melodramas, but here it hits far harder because it's nearly glossed over.
Indeed, I remember posting a review of this film somewhere in which I tried to think about this in relation to Ozu: big events like marriages and deaths are skipped over while Wellman focuses on the little stuff.

Some other examples (from just 1932) include The Match King (1932), an eighty minute epic about Warren William's rise and fall as a capitalist who goes from a small-time crook to holding a monopoly on European match production. One of the great Marxist Hollywood films in its examination of how finance capital requires an unending expansion and growth at a compound rate (until it crashes). Or Three on a Match (1932), which traces the lives of Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis from girlhood to adulthood in a brisk sixty minutes.

While I'm sure there are examples of kind of film in the golden era, it seems to me that the "epic" and the b-film largely part ways, with the b-film sticking to a more modest temporal and spatial scope while the "big idea" films are more limited to the a-list epics.

This is just a feeling, however, and there are certainly plenty of b-movies with a more modest scope in the pre-code era as well. But does anyone else have the sense that many movies from this era have a different feel to them that can be attributed to these kinds of structural issues? I'd really like to know if this is just a feeling I have based on my own selective viewing or if there is something to this.

Are there any good books on the pre-code era that address these formal issues? This is the kind of thing that a Bordwell book on the era would address, so maybe he'll write one on the 30s like his recent one on the 40s.

On a completely unrelated note, I do have a recommendation for a lurid, risque film from the era: Call Her Savage (1932), staring the great Clara Bow: SEE Clara Bow run around without a bra whipping rattlesnakes and men! SEE Clara Bow fight Thelma Todd! SEE men dressed like french maids doing a musical number in a gay bar! SEE Clara Bow and her wealthy boyfriend fight their way out of the gay bar after getting into an argument with an anarchist!

User avatar
Michael Kerpan
Spelling Bee Champeen
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:20 pm
Location: New England
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#55 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun Nov 25, 2018 2:46 pm

And where does one find Call Her Savage? ;-)

User avatar
Satori
Joined: Sun May 09, 2010 10:32 am

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#56 Post by Satori » Sun Nov 25, 2018 2:55 pm

There is a MOD release available on Amazon. It looks like there is a copy on Youtube as well, but the quality looks poor.

User avatar
Rayon Vert
Green is the Rayest Color
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:52 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#57 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Nov 25, 2018 3:46 pm

I've got the Fox Cinema Archives release (purchased for this project) and will be watching it soon, probably tonight!

User avatar
Rayon Vert
Green is the Rayest Color
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:52 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#58 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Nov 25, 2018 4:39 pm

Image
The Divorcée (Leonard 1930). In its wrap-up the film ends up celebrating the sanctity of marriage but not before having normalized adultery and divorce through most of it, in addition to tossing out a few deliciously pre-codish moments throughout. Really not the greatest script but I still liked the film most of the time, especially in those really intensely played melodramatic scenes like the one where Paul, upset that Jerry will marry Ted instead of him, ends up creating a car accident that disfigures his soon-to-be-wife Dorothy. Shearer (Jerry), who won Best Actress, is really the best thing going here, though.


Mandalay (Curtiz 1934). A programmer that starts off sordidly enough: in Rangoon, Kay Francis is betrayed and sold into prostitution by her gun-running boyfriend. The film then becomes less interesting as Francis’ character gets involved with a humanitarian doctor, though, until the noir-ish, revenge-gratifying dénouement.


Image
Female (Curtiz 1933). Ruth Chatterton is the ruthless owner and manager of an automobile manufacturing company and spends her evenings using and then discarding selected male employees. Predictably and sadly, that refreshingly modern portrait of a woman gets twisted into the opposite at film’s end. Chatterton is good and fun here, but it’s a slight film.


Image
Massacre (Crosland 1934). Trust WB to make films like these. Richard Barthelmess is Joe Thunderhorse, an off-reservation Sioux who makes his living playing in rodeos, who gets his eyes opened when he visits the reservation again and is witness to the realities of institutionalized racism, cultural assimilation and general exploitation of his people. I can forgive the film’s flaws, like Barthelmess’ limited acting skills, because this is pretty hard-hitting (there’s also a provocative interracial kiss), pulling few punches, and overall entertaining.


Employees’ Entrance (Del Ruth 1933). A big New York department store puts the cut-throat, anything-goes-for-profits Warren William in charge. The entire film is pretty much seeing what that involves, with a related storyline involving two newly married employees (including Loretta Young) whose relationship is threatened by his behavior. I was expecting a little more because of the relatively high rating on IMDB. The acting is good, the direction fine, but the plot is a little underdeveloped. This gets included among sexy pre-Codes but that aspect of the film is rather mild.


Image
Ex-Lady (Florey 1933). Liberal-minded Bette Davis and Gene Raymond run an experiment to test out their ideas about romantic love staying vital only outside of marriage and commitment. The script could have used some work here because despite some good scenes the requisite sense of clear and engaging narrative development and tension is a bit lacking. That’s unfortunate because there are good elements here, notably Davis’ ability to evoke strong eroticism, or the director’s noteworthy choice of a tight close-up on the lovers’ heads lasting over 1 minute.

User avatar
Shrew
The Untamed One
Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:22 am

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#59 Post by Shrew » Mon Nov 26, 2018 5:41 pm

Satori wrote:
Sun Nov 25, 2018 8:27 am
As interesting as some of the risque stuff is, I think I am more interested in the formal differences between this era and the golden age of Hollywood. There is a particular genre of pre-code film that I think of as the "epic B-picture." That is, a film that paradoxically combines the narrative economy of the B-film with an epic scope that takes place over several years. …
While I'm sure there are examples of kind of film in the golden era, it seems to me that the "epic" and the b-film largely part ways, with the b-film sticking to a more modest temporal and spatial scope while the "big idea" films are more limited to the a-list epics.
This is just a feeling, however, and there are certainly plenty of b-movies with a more modest scope in the pre-code era as well. But does anyone else have the sense that many movies from this era have a different feel to them that can be attributed to these kinds of structural issues? I'd really like to know if this is just a feeling I have based on my own selective viewing or if there is something to this.
I think the prevalence of the “epic b-movie” in this time period can somewhat be attributed to the predominance of Warner Bros/First National movies in Pre-Code discussions. No other studio embodies that nebulous “pre-code ethos” as WB, and compared to other studios so much more of their pre-code output is available through the Forbidden Hollywood sets (which include a handful of MGM pics) or Warner Archive. WB’s modus operandi was pretty much making everything like a B-movie (I think they may have actually considered So Big an A-movie, or at least more prestigious). I expect their desire for economy pushed filmmakers to think of ways to make films seem “bigger” by jumping rapidly through time. There are certainly lots of variations on “as the years go by” montages in these films (the newspapers in 3 on a Match, the bound books with years on the spine in Midnight Mary, etc.). Interestingly, it also ties in to a big theme I’ve noticed in most of these pre-code WB films: the role of environment in shaping criminals and the thin line between classes. It’s flat out stated in The Public Enemy, and the gravitational pull of environment/childhood poverty frequently shows up in the various “fallen woman” pictures.

All that said, I haven’t seen enough from other studios to definitively say this is just WB style. While the non-WB pre-code films I’ve seen are much more traditionally constrained in time, they also tend to be more auteur or genre driven projects (Lubitsch/Sternberg/Mamoulian at Paramount, Universal Horror, the Fox Fords, the Columbia Capras). The closest pictures to the WB factory output are the MGM Shearer and Harlow films, which have more unity of time and are also more gaudy and boring (Red Dust excepted). Anyone else have any other big non-WB recommendations?
Rayon Vert wrote:
Sun Nov 25, 2018 4:39 pm
Female (Curtiz 1933).
Ruth Chatterton is the ruthless owner and manager of an automobile manufacturing company and spends her evenings using and then discarding selected male employees. Predictably and sadly, that refreshingly modern portrait of a woman gets twisted into the opposite at film’s end. Chatterton is good and fun here, but it’s a slight film.
Yeah, Female is about 30 good, fun minutes and 30 really dull minutes, and that pivot is right where it shifts its sexual politics. A better take on the working woman is Man Wanted, where Kay Francis stars as magazine publisher whose work absorbs her life, so she hires rowing machine salesman David Manners as assistant because he’s willing to stay late. The interesting thing here is how it handles Francis’s marriage to a wealthy playboy and inevitable love triangle. the couple’s interactions are mostly happy ones, until it’s revealed that he’s straying. While there’s some mild grumbling about her work breaking them apart, it’s mostly that he’s just a cad taking advantage of her distraction rather than feeling neglected. The film’s romance ends predictably, but notably suggesting that she’s going to continue her work and schedule, only with a partner that better shares her interests.

It’s also shot by Gregg Toland, and there’s one particularly great shot when Francis and Manners first meet. It starts as a long shot of Francis reading some papers, then she walks toward the camera into a close-up, looking up startled. Then cut to Manners. Nothing else is as exciting and it’s mostly slight, but still worth a look beyond its politics.
Rayon Vert wrote:
Sun Nov 25, 2018 4:39 pm
Ex-Lady (Florey 1933). Liberal-minded Bette Davis and Gene Raymond run an experiment to test out their ideas about romantic love staying vital only outside of marriage and commitment. The script could have used some work here because despite some good scenes the requisite sense of clear and engaging narrative development and tension is a bit lacking. That’s unfortunate because there are good elements here, notably Davis’ ability to evoke strong eroticism, or the director’s noteworthy choice of a tight close-up on the lovers’ heads lasting over 1 minute.
Agreed. There’s two big scenes here: the first where the lovers have a frank talk about why they shouldn’t marry, and then that close-up in the middle, which is shockingly steamy. You can see actually a fly land on Davis toward the end of that take, but it feels like one of those lightning in a bottle moments that no one dared try to recapture. It’s a weird little flaw that makes the scene seem somehow sexier.

Also, I really loved Employee’s Entrance, but I’ll write more about it later.

User avatar
Rayon Vert
Green is the Rayest Color
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:52 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#60 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Dec 02, 2018 12:12 am

Call Her Savage (Dillon 1932). I was reading the Island of Lost Souls Criterion booklet essay just before watching this, which riffs on the fascination of many horror films of the 1931-32 period with creatures resembling normal humans but that are in some way abnormal and how that relates to the feared threat of miscegenation. Something of that racist mentality can clearly be read here. The film acts out the stated premise at the beginning of the film of the sins of the fathers being transmitted to later generations, as we first see in the film’s prologue Nasa’s (Clara Bow) grandfather, a brutish man committing adultery and murder with his young daughter in tow, then see that daughter grown up (Nasa’s mother) married to another white man but having an adulterous affair of her own with a Native Indian, of whom Nasa will be the child. Now grown up herself, Nasa is depicted in almost comic manner initially as incredibly impulsive, quick to anger, and admitting to having difficulty controlling her racing, chaotic thoughts. Is she this way because she carries the “bad seed” of her father, or because she’s a half-breed? The film’s conclusion seems to imply the latter conclusion (even though her early companion, a half-breed Indian himself, doesn’t manifest any of those traits). In any event, her humanity is depicted as something a little less than normal.

In any case, the rest of the film sees the unhappy life that then unfolds. There’s a weakness in the script in that once we’re into a third of the film, Nasa no longer seems to exhibit those behaviors and traits and is just another adult female character that is a victim of a mixture of bad decisions and general misfortune. It’s fairly gloomy and depressing, but there’s nothing really that original or worthwhile here after that initially fucked-up but intriguing beginning.


The Most Dangerous Game (Pichel & Schoedsack 1932). I won’t summarize this because most people here have probably seen it. I thought it was enjoyable, especially for the conceit, but I kept wishing in several places that it had been executed better, whether it was McCrea’s acting, some of the sets and effects, or the overemphasis on serial adventure-style action in the end, entertaining as that is to some degree. Great last scene and shot though. (It’s also completely silly how McCrea is having a swell time in his host’s mansion after bemoaning having just lost all his friends in the wreck (!), but then that’s the type of minor flaw I can live with and what makes this kind of film fun.)


A Free Soul (Brown 1931). The upper class Norma Shearer finds her loyalties torn when she slums it with a gangster (Clark Gable), to the disappointment of her adored widowed - and alcoholic - father (Lionel Barrymore). The film surprises you with its many highly melodramatic twists and turns, until it becomes unintentionally funny. Shearer’s character shifts her position so often, dramatically and abruptly, that it’s hard to take her seriously. It’s difficult to understand this got so noticed at the Oscars. There’s also a strange incestuous vibe going on in the film between father and daughter, which the film almost makes explicit in the opening scene where the audience is led to believe Barrymore’s undressing daughter is a woman that just spent the night with him.


Image
Jewel Robbery (Dieterle 1932). In a European city, Kay Francis falls in love with a sophisticated, high-class jewel thief. Sounds familiar? This has a very similar spirit to the Lubitsch film, and is at least half as amusing and charming, so that definitely makes it recommendable, and one of the better new films I’ve seen so far for this project. You’d swear this was Paramount instead of WB.


Bombshell (Fleming 1933). I expected to like this more. It’s intelligently enough written and directed, but it seemed to only really start to get going midway with the baby angle. And even after that I think the main problem is that the material just didn’t tickle the funny bone enough, so that all those chaotic, proto-Sturges scenes of people yelling and fighting were more fraying my nerves than anything else. In terms of Harlow movies, I liked Hold Your Man better.


I’m No Angel (Ruggles 1933). A bit of gentle class conflict. This is the first Mae West movie I see and I was impressed to see she was credited with the entire screenplay. A pleasant enough comedy, though the one-line persona starts to get a little wearisome two-thirds of the way in. But then the cute courtroom scene provides a happy finale. I thought West’s “sassing it up” with her black maids, as Feego puts it, and her bluesy songs, gave her character a slight African American style.


Image
Downstairs (Bell 1932). This starts off almost as a farce, a wicked one, but ends up in almost equally sinister dramatic terrain. John Gilbert is a right cad, using his employment as a chauffeur to enter service into a baron’s estate, and manipulate everyone to his own merciless ends, including seducing the housemaid newly married to the head butler. The film was based on a story Gilbert came up with himself, and it’s a smartly made, darkly fun little MGM picture. Out of the non-horror new films I’ve sought out for this project, this has the highest rating on IMDB.

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#61 Post by knives » Thu Dec 06, 2018 1:31 pm

Hold Your Man (dir. Wood)
This may be Sam Wood at his best, but the real star of this attempt to reform Harlow's image is Anita Loos' script. It's a complex look at the pre-code character that doubles as the best women in prison film until Cromwell's Caged, which by no coincidence was also written by a woman. I see a lot of people crack at the second half, but I think that's what makes this a great film and not just another pre-code smut fest. It opens in a generic way putting Harlow's tough dame in a romantic bind between sexy crook Gable and the most moral man ever in Stuart Erwin.

Erwin's character is super interesting after all of the arrogant and grotesque male figures I've seen make up the early sound era. He loves Harlow as a person and doesn't give a fig about her past which is indicated to have been as a prostitute or something similar. He does phrase their relationship as a bit of reformation, but I think that mild and much more realistic hurt works better to legitimize the relationship with Gable than making Erwin a villain would have done. An uncaring, Skinner system instead proves to be the villain as it punishes without any ability to make improvements on character. The film is also one of the most mature from a racial point of view that I've seen again thanks to Loos' incredible script. At first the movie seems to just be casually playing out the racism common of the era, but in the second half an actual African American woman becomes a key player. She's still portrayed in stereotype, but is allowed to be a real person who happens to have that baggage. In fact she becomes something of the hero of the climax being the product for the happy ending. Without giving away the dog the film also shows the only humane authority figure to represented by a black man which feels daring even now for how it is not commented on.

Golden Dawn (dir. Enright)
Admittedly this is left in a less than great condition with the color version of the film missing, but for even the greatest aesthetic in the world this is a mighty awful movie. Hammerstein's music is bad and Noah Beery gives one of the most uncomfortable black face performances ever. What's unfortunate is that given a truly talented performer in the role like Paul Robeson I could see this villain transformed into a modern day Aaron from Titus Andronicus. Instead you almost have to admire the restrain of the costume designer to not dress Beery in in a watermelon. There's more to the film, but its badly acted, hokey nonsense so who cares? In light of pre-code curiosity it was fascinating to see how blood soaked they painted the lead after a fight where he sings some stupid song to his beloved which is an amusing sight. There's also a song about how domestic abuse is the only way to ensure a woman will love you.

Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) (dir. Leonard)
Before I talk about the film proper I have to admit that seeing Gable sans mustache makes him look really weird in close-up. It's hard to take him seriously when he looks so off. To be fair this film shows a bit of intelligence and intends for him to be a little off as Garbo shifts from damaged girl to independent woman. The whole shift in the Garbo persona from the silent era to these down and out pre-coders is much more my style and is raising my estimation of her significantly. The basic story is a familiar one for the era with a poor farm girl suffering abuse from father Jean Hersholt so she runs away rising up the ranks as a bad girl who can't get over that one love. The film manages to be better than most of its ilk because she doesn't really learn a lesson and the film has no interest in punishing here. All of her decisions are her own and aren't dictated by others (though they are dictated by her relationship to another). The only real negative to the film is Gable himself. He plays the thing so unlikable and nasty you wonder why anyone would stay committed to such a stink. He throws a woman from the second floor to the first floor of a bar and it's played for laughs.

User avatar
Shrew
The Untamed One
Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:22 am

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#62 Post by Shrew » Thu Dec 06, 2018 6:34 pm

Red-Headed Woman (Conway, 1932)
Given knives review of Hold Your Man above, I feel like I picked the wrong Harlow/Anita Loos project. This one is very pre-code, with Harlow as sociopathic social climber, breaking up her boss’s marriage so she can wed him, being shunned by high society, then trying to play up an even wealthier client of her husband. It plays as a less comedic version of Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and to be honest, Harlow is a too mercenary to root for, and any satirical edge is lost as the men she seduces are mostly too boring to remember. Unlike Baby Face, there’s no sense of the male-dominated world/behavior the protagonist is fighting against/taking advantage of, just vague notions of wealth (embodied, as always, in cars and dogs). It does have a great opening with Harlow tossing off dye foil to reveal her locks (surely an inspiration for Gilda), and a great ending. Also starring Una Merkel as The Friend.

They Call It Sin (Freeland, 1932)
Not as lurid as the title suggests, but rather a mostly refreshing take on the struggles of a woman trying to make a living on her own merit. Loretta Young is yet another small-town girl trying to face down the big city, and Una Merkel is yet another best friend, though here she gets to display more spunk (and a handstand) as a stage dancer. Young is introduced playing the organ in church in a small town, and after learning her parents aren’t her real parents in a very abrupt scene, follows rich businessman David Manners back to the city only to find he’s engaged. She ends up finding work with Louis Calhern’s shady stage producer, but when she refuses his advances she loses her job and he steals her songs. Things get complicated and have to be resolved through emergency brain surgery. Despite the weird turn of the last act, the rest is pretty okay.

Big City Blues (LeRoy, 1932)
Painfully naïve Eric Linden (who was roughly 22 here but looks and sounds like 16) leaves Indiana for New York with his inheritance, but not before getting a been-there, done-that earful from the local telegraph operator. Linden’s New York experience is meeting up with his con-artist? cousin “Gibboney,” played by Walter Catlett and styled as I-don’t-even-know, is he meant to read as Jewish? Gay? Just weird? How is he this kid’s cousin? Anyway, Catlett plays the character like he’s about to rob the kid blind at any moment but turns out to be mostly benign, organizing a boozy welcoming party with Joan Blondell, Humphrey Bogart, and Ned Sparks. Blondell and Linden flirt unconvincingly, until a drunken fight breaks out and a girl is accidentally killed, so everyone flees. There’s a brief scene with Jobyna Howland as an older woman who mistakes Linden for a gigolo, and Guy Kibbee shows up as the hotel dick who enjoys the resulting publicity from the incident. Overall, the film is breezy and short, the party taking up a good 20 minutes or so, but Linden is “gee-golly-whiz” in human clothing.

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#63 Post by knives » Thu Dec 06, 2018 6:42 pm

I definitely remember Red Headed Woman feeling like a poorly xeroxed Baby Doll. It's kind of impressive how prolific Loos was in her day though. Any good books written on her?

User avatar
Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#64 Post by Gregory » Thu Dec 06, 2018 7:05 pm

Rayon Vert wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 12:12 am
The Most Dangerous Game...(It’s also completely silly how McCrea is having a swell time in his host’s mansion after bemoaning having just lost all his friends in the wreck (!), but then that’s the type of minor flaw I can live with and what makes this kind of film fun.)
True, that is silly, and it's worth pointing out that in the original story, Rainsford simply falls overboard and swims to the island, with none of the business about the yacht running aground, exploding, and people being eaten by a shark. That was clearly added by the filmmakers to ramp up the excitement. But this has always remained a staple of the action film genre up to the present: so often characters who go through violently traumatic events then soon after showing no real signs of shock or severe stress (usually male protagonists and commonly misinterpreted as "stoicism.") Anyway, the film adaptation seems to have drastically ramped up the action of the early part of the story and then clicked back into a more literal version of the story, with Rainsford drinking and chatting with his new host.

User avatar
Rayon Vert
Green is the Rayest Color
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:52 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#65 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:21 am

Three on a Match (LeRoy 1932). This starts off promisingly, as we follow three schoolgirls whose lives intertwine again later in adulthood. But surprisingly it’s the beautiful (Dvorak), not the previously bad one (Blondell), who really spoils - deserting her husband with her child, for no apparent reason other than an undiagnosed and never explained unhappiness. The film has a certain aliveness, is well directed/shot/acted, but it’s strangely, and in the end unfortunately, scripted, degenerating into a melodramatic crime drama-thriller. Bette Davis as the third friend in the trio (the smart one) is little used, and at film’s end you come away with feeling there isn’t any real significant connection between the three characters, and between the initial premise and the film’s conclusion. Still not a bad film, though, just not a keeper for me because of the script.

I probably haven’t seen enough to really have an accurate or fair portrait, but LeRoy is a director who so far has never disappointed me, and seems more consistent than a Wellman.


Island of Lost Souls (Kenton 1932). Does the kiss with Lota count as bestiality? No matter, this is all kinds of reprehensible. It’s my first time seeing it and I don’t think I’ve seen another 30s horror film as gruesome. There are a lot of similarities here with The Most Dangerous Game, but for my money this is better on all counts. Just the way the film kicks off on those boat sequences is very moody and effective, and the violence with the captain already plunges us abruptly into violence and chaos.


Night Nurse (Wellman 1931). Blondell shows newcomer Stanwyck the ropes in her new career, and half-way in the film’s main storyline kicks in involving the latter, now on private duty, trying to save endangered children caught up in a twisted crime plot. I honestly preferred the earlier, episodic half. I have the same overall impression as with Three on a Match: likeable actors and direction, but a pedestrian story and screenplay.


Image
Lawyer Man (Dieterle 1932). WB sure knew how to come up with unusual, exotic titles for its movies: Lawyer Man, Night Nurse, Jewel Robbery. :roll: Here William Powell is an East Side attorney unafraid of fighting power but he gets framed when he moves uptown. Unremarkable but still solid enough and fairly entertaining throughout.


Image
Skyscraper Souls (Selwyn 1932). This is very similar to Employees’ Entrance. Warren Williams is again ruthless in business and romantic affairs, this time running a high-rise bank building. He’s also once again interfering in the romantic relationships of his employees, but more successfully. He isn’t satisfied with having his secretary as a mistress, he has to go for her younger assistant as well. This was made six months before Employees' Entrance, and at MGM instead of WB, so that EE is the derivative but not necessarily inferior film (they’re about equal in my eyes). This is darker though, and has some shocking scenes at the end.

My dvd in the set it came in was scratched so I watched it here. A bunch of other pre-codes available to view also.


Man Wanted (Dieterle 1932). Shrew wrote this up earlier in the thread, contrasting it with Curtiz’ Female. It definitely is a progressive portrayal of the woman as boss – there isn’t a note of reaction. There’s also a nice gentleness to this comedy that is really feather light – perhaps just a bit too much, as I kept hoping for Kay Francis’ character to develop stronger feelings towards her admiring male secretary.

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#66 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 09, 2018 12:20 pm

Reminder that lists are due December 13th (this Thursday), which really means when I wake up on December 14th (~10AM EST). As ever, if we don't get at least ten lists, there's no tabulation

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#67 Post by knives » Sun Dec 09, 2018 12:26 pm

Dang, I hadn't realized things were coming up so soon. There's still so much I was becoming invested in.

HinkyDinkyTruesmith
Joined: Mon Aug 07, 2017 10:21 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#68 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:18 pm

I actually was thinking it was due the morning of the 13th, so, in my mind that's an extra day!

I've watched more than just the following, but in the interest of time, these are the ones that I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend. The thoughts are rough, but, I hope someone finds them useful!

Heroes for Sale & Wild Boys of the Road
I went through the Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 3 and watched everything but Frisco Jenny. I enjoyed pretty much all of them, but these two were the ones that really stood out. In the confines of this set at least, these were the films that fulfilled the promise of Other Men's Women, which is refreshingly authentic visually, and even for much of the plot, but suffers on the back-end from that sort of "anything-goes" narrative style that most Pre-Codes suffer from (these two have a bit of it, but, transcend it). The brutality of Heroes was shocking after the opening war scenes which, while refreshingly cynical, fit in unexceptionally beside All Quiet. Even though this is a film that sort of tries to run through every social problem you can think of, and even leaves behind after the first third or so the entire issue of veteran struggles, it is remarkably for its bait-and-switch critique of capitalism, and to my political beliefs, insightful vision of how capital and industrialism work. As for Wild Boys, I have pretty similar feelings, just on different topics. Another rough-and-ready Wellman that shows how comfortable he'd become with the abbreviated run time. If the earlier films in the set feel a little clunky with how little time they have to do things, these later ones have smoothed over that struggle for the most part. The young actors in this were great, down the line, and Wellman's evenhanded, almost Hemingway-esque approach to handling certain topics was shocking, and, a reminder that one of the things that was lost with the production code was an ability to grapple reality in a direct, controversial way.

Night Nurse
I don't care much to disagree with what's been said before about this film, and it obviously has flaws. However, I found it incredibly creepy and compelling. Wellman's Pre-Code throughline seems to be a resentment towards authority figures, and here Stanwyck's struggle to do what she believes is right (or what is obviously right) is increasingly frustrating yet plausible and resonant with the dismissal of women's voices in today's world. There's a innocent casualness to the undressing, for all its sensuality: a sort of, "people do undress you know" even as they obviously find more and more opportunities to have characters disrobe in front of us. Stanwyck isn't nearly as good here as she is in Capra's stuff, but she's still pretty good, and has nice chemistry with Blondell. Clark Gable steals the show with his creepy as hell chauffeur, whose menacing standing in the background probably works so well because of his black attire. Sort of all feels like a bit of a fever dream with the overformalized outfits (someone, somewhere described this as a fetish film with all the uniforms), the movement back and forth between the rooms in the second half, where any character has the ability to show up at any time, and of course the threat that hangs over the children.

American Madness
Domino, I believe, said this was one of the great movies about loyalty, and I'm glad I saw his comments before I watched it. It is rather apparent, but watching it with that lens in mind really solidified the film for me. I think this is one of the greatest films of the 30s, full stop. I always want Wellman to be a little better than he is, because of how much I love his outdoor photography, his unsentimental attitudes––but he just always seems to lack that Movie Touch, which Capra has in spades. This moves like a movie, has no clunks or tremors, and even with some of Capra's more sentimental, overreaching plot points, they effortlessly work because Capra just knows how to make a goddamn movie. The cast is uniformly excellent, which makes sense when you have a script that gives them all such compelling roles. It's certainly a different film from It's a Wonderful Life, for all the comparison they receive (understandably so). IaWL is one of my all-time favorites, but I don't see any reason to hold them up against each other. For me, they're actually more of inverses.

Capra's flawed reasoning when it comes to people is one of my favorite things about him. He's just incapable, really, of making a social message picture that is coherent, and in doing this, he captures the very essence of the struggle of America. Likewise, this is what makes the most unusual film of his career, The Bitter Tea of General Yen so damned good. Another first-watch for me, I was amazed at this, and between this, American Madness, and It Happened One Night, it makes Capra and cinematographer Joseph Walker one of my favorite pairings in cinema. But, like the contradictions and inconsistencies in Madness, the racial hypocrisies that both Capra and lead Stanwyck hold in this are what give it its power, and its dynamism. The film would simply not work as well for what it is had Yen been played by a Chinese actor. It is too telling a flaw about the inability of white audiences to accept miscegenation.

The Silver Cord would be my last recommendation, but, I won't say anything, because the less you know about this wild melodrama going in, the better.

User avatar
Rayon Vert
Green is the Rayest Color
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:52 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#69 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:58 pm

HinkyDinkyTruesmith wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:18 pm
Clark Gable steals the show with his creepy as hell chauffeur, whose menacing standing in the background probably works so well because of his black attire.(...)
I always want Wellman to be a little better than he is, because of how much I love his outdoor photography, his unsentimental attitudes––but he just always seems to lack that Movie Touch, which Capra has in spades.
Gable was also quite brutal as the gangster in A Free Soul, which apparently is what got him more noticed, though his character there is more complex. As for Wellman's direction in Night Nurse, there is that very stylish opening and closing POV shot with the ambulance ride.

HinkyDinkyTruesmith
Joined: Mon Aug 07, 2017 10:21 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#70 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Sun Dec 09, 2018 5:26 pm

I haven't seen A Free Soul in quite a while. I'll try and check it out before the deadline.

As for the "Movie Touch" I so vaguely referred to, I don't exactly mean a lack of style or anything (which seems to be how you understood what I said, sorry if I'm wrong!) The opening and closing shots certainly are stylish and all, but, what I really refer to is that fluidity where everything fits into place and flows together. It's the difference between someone who can shoot a bunch of interesting shots and get good performances out of actors, and someone who can just cohere the elements of a film together and create something that feels like a Movie. Which is to say, it's the difference between a lot of Pre-Code films that just feel cobbled together, and the majority of films from later on. This isn't necessarily a bad thing: Wellman's cobbled together quality is not far off from Cassavetes, one might argue. There's no inherent superiority in an "invisible style." But, it's the way Capra's films, even so early on, don't feel like there's any gaps: that they feel like the man knew exactly what he wanted from the moment he stepped on set. I still don't know if I'm communicating myself properly, but, I hope that's better than "Movie Touch".

User avatar
Rayon Vert
Green is the Rayest Color
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:52 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#71 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Dec 09, 2018 11:03 pm

Last viewing for me.
Shrew wrote:
Thu Dec 06, 2018 6:34 pm
They Call It Sin (Freeland, 1932)Not as lurid as the title suggests, but rather a mostly refreshing take on the struggles of a woman trying to make a living on her own merit. Loretta Young is yet another small-town girl trying to face down the big city, and Una Merkel is yet another best friend, though here she gets to display more spunk (and a handstand) as a stage dancer. Young is introduced playing the organ in church in a small town, and after learning her parents aren’t her real parents in a very abrupt scene, follows rich businessman David Manners back to the city only to find he’s engaged. She ends up finding work with Louis Calhern’s shady stage producer, but when she refuses his advances she loses her job and he steals her songs. Things get complicated and have to be resolved through emergency brain surgery. Despite the weird turn of the last act, the rest is pretty okay.
I was pleasantly surprised for the two-thirds of this or so. There was something almost Griffith-like in the charm and setting of the budding romance of Manners and Young in that conservative, religious little Kansas town (except, of course, for the fact that we know that Manners is already engaged). But the plot's "complications" in the later part really take this someplace (or all kinds of places) else, and that potential gets traded in for a disjointed narrative and less satisfying melodramatics.

User avatar
Shrew
The Untamed One
Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:22 am

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#72 Post by Shrew » Tue Dec 11, 2018 12:57 am

Is this the point where we beg for a little more time? Just to Saturday/Sunday, to get one more good weekend day of viewing?

Anyone waffling about leaving some beloved films off this list for not being "precode" enough? For instance, I decided to vote for Borzage's bad Girl after a rewatch; it's frank enough about sex and especially pregnancy to qualify as pre-code even if the film probably could have been made later with a little shift in focus. On the other hand, Capra's Lady for a Day is great, but I'm not sure if benevolent gambler gangsters and distant out-of-wedlock birth are enough (would it change much if Dave the Dude were part of a nebulous organization and Apple Annie had a long-dead husband)? Lubitsch in particular is a quandry. Sure, Trouble in Paradise is sexy, but were Lubitsch's double entendres and wit ever really neutered by the code in Merry Widow or Angel? Only Design for Living would absolutely qualify.

And as to Wellman/Capra: I appreciate Capra's ability to build to grand climaxes while still leaving room for digressions and admit he's the better filmmaker, but then Wellman stages a discussion between lovers between the slats of a shipping crate. [/distracted boyfriend meme]

User avatar
Michael Kerpan
Spelling Bee Champeen
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:20 pm
Location: New England
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#73 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 11, 2018 1:01 am

Lubitsch's "So This Is Paris" (seemingly released only on VHS) would _definitely_ qualify -- even more so than Design (maybe).

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#74 Post by domino harvey » Tue Dec 11, 2018 1:39 am

Well, I spilled my water bottle all over my MacBook and now neither my keyboard or trackpad work (thankfully the laptop itself seems to be okay), so if the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse I just ordered don't work, everyone will get an extension due to Act of God til I can use my computer

User avatar
Rayon Vert
Green is the Rayest Color
Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:52 pm
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: The Pre-Code Hollywood Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#75 Post by Rayon Vert » Tue Dec 11, 2018 11:15 am

Shrew wrote:
Tue Dec 11, 2018 12:57 am
Sure, Trouble in Paradise is sexy, but were Lubitsch's double entendres and wit ever really neutered by the code in Merry Widow or Angel?
It's on my list for sure. The protagonists are thieves we're rooting for, and they're doing it for the sheer pleasure of it. That and the general naughtiness make it a completely suitable candidate.

One blogger also adds this:
The rich people luxuriate in lurid affairs. One of the boorish barons apparently has a thing for prostitutes. Plural, and at the same time.
My own criteria is that I'm basically including anything that to some extent would later be potentially censorious and has a "pre-code" vibe, and just ranking them on general merit afterwards.

Post Reply