Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934

Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934

Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934

Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934

Synopsis

Pre-Code Hollywood explores the fascinating period in American motion picture history from 1930 to 1934 when the commandments of the Production Code Administration were violated with impunity in a series of wildly unconventional films -- a time when censorship was lax and Hollywood made the most of it. Though more unbridled, salacious, subversive, and just plain bizarre than what came afterwards, the films of the period do indeed have the look of Hollywood cinema -- but the moral terrain is so off-kilter that they seem imported from a parallel universe. In a sense, Doherty avers, the films of pre-Code Hollywood are from another universe. They lay bare what Hollywood under the Production Code attempted to cover up and push offscreen: sexual liaisons unsanctified by the laws of God or man, marriage ridiculed and redefined, ethnic lines crossed and racial barriers ignored, economic injustice exposed and political corruption assumed, vice unpunished and virtue unrewarded -- in sum, pretty much the raw stuff of American culture, unvarnished and unveiled. No other book has yet sought to interpret the films and film-related meanings of the pre-Code era -- what defined the period, why it ended, and what its relationship was to the country as a whole during the darkest years of the Great Depression... and afterward.

Excerpt

A few years ago, MGM released a fully restored version of Tarzan and His Mate (1934), an uncensored print that included heretofore unseen footage: an eyeopening underwater swim scene featuring Johnny Weismuller, barely clad in a loin cloth, and a body double for Maureen O'Sullivan, an Olympic swimmer named Josephine McKim, clad not at all. I saw the film at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a vintage repertory house and a mecca still for film buffs who prefer their celluloid straight up, no videotape. The aquatic nudity generated a curious and memorable reaction from the packed house. Good-natured laughter at the rear-screen projection and embarrassed wincing at the offhand racism turned suddenly to shocked silence. Some people actually gasped. Obviously, the nudity per se wasn't shocking to the sophisticated crowd of pallid cineastes. What shocked was the motion picture context: none of us had seen anything like it in classical Hollywood cinema and the glimpse of an alternate film universe was fascinating and a bit disorienting. Before diving into that universe, the world of pre-Code Hollywood cinema, I'd like to offer some explanation, thanks, and caution.

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