Pre-Code pictures that featured MAE WEST were her best loved films. These policeman surrounding Lady Lou [in "She Done Him Wrong"] were harmless. But the "purity police" who soon arrived on the scene slowly ruined the cinema.
• • The essence of pre-Code and its freedom inspired these remarks by Mick LaSalle, Movie Critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.
• • Mick LaSalle writes: When we're talking about "pre-Code," we're talking about a period roughly from the middle of 1929 until July 1, 1934, in which American movies were pretty much uncensored. If you think of old movies as corny, chances are you're thinking of the movies made after censorship took hold in the middle of 1934. Before then, movies were sexy. They were political. They were surprisingly feminist and they were adult.
• • I spent many years obsessed with these films. Their appeal is that, through them, you get to hear a long-ago era speak with its own voice, unimpeded by censorship. That voice is surprisingly modern. You come to realize how much of human nature remains consistent from one era to the next — — and also how all that phony virtue stuff, in the late '30s and '40s films, was nothing but propaganda. Human beings have always been more or less the same, and these movies are your proof.
• • In the early 1930s, there were seven major studios cranking out product: MGM, Warner Bros., RKO, Paramount, Columbia, Universal, and Fox. All of them have significance, but some are more essential than others. As far as pre-Codes go, Columbia is not too important. Fox was probably the lewdest of the studios, but it made the worst movies. Universal specialized in horror films. That leaves MGM, Warner Bros., RKO, and Paramount.
• • MGM, contrary to its staid reputation (gained during the late 1930s and 1940s), was one of the most risque studios, mainly because it specialized in female stars (Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Madge Evans), and actress vehicles of the day dealt mainly with sex and feminism.
• • Warner Bros., which didn't have many female stars, dealt mainly with politics, business, crime, and current events. It was the most politically liberal of the studios and developed its own hard-hitting, fast-paced style. As for RKO, it was the least of the three, but it had Constance Bennett and Ann Harding, and it turned out some fine movies (including "King Kong").
• • MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO films are owned by Warner Bros. They can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, and they've been the most readily available on home video for many years. But Paramount's pre-Codes, which are owned by Universal, have been missing in action. And Paramount was a huge studio, on a par with Warner Bros. and MGM.
• • How huge? Just look at its roster of stars. For either part or all of the pre-Code era, Paramount had Mae West, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper, Ruth Chatterton, William Powell, Maurice Chevalier, Kay Francis, Fredric March, and Jeanette MacDonald (in her "lingerie queen" years) under contract. They also had some of Hollywood's finest directors: Josef von Sternberg, Rouben Mamoulian, Cecil B. DeMille, and Ernst Lubitsch. . . .
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Article: “Pre-Code films: The way we really were"
• • Byline: Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic
• • Published in: The San Francisco Chronicle — — www.sfgate.com
• • Published on: 27 March 2009
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1932 • •
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