Lately I’ve been watching some pre-code Hollywood films. The pre-code era started with sound and ended with the enforcement of the Hays code (1927-1934). The term ‘pre-code’ seems sort of risque, but the films are pretty tame compared to what”s on network television today, let alone what’s in today’s movies. At the most, pre-code films are suggestive. But they are strikingly different than their Hays code counterparts. Pre-code films confronted issues, such as family violence, drug abuse, poverty, and sexuality, which were largely absent from films after 1934. Busby Berkeley, the king of choreography during the 1930s, went from Pettin’ in the Park and Honeymoon Hotel to creating dance numbers for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals. It really wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that films started to take on these issues again.
So far, some of my favorite pre-code movies are:
Gold Diggers of 1933–Centers on the Great Depression and it”s affects on four chorus girls. Has great musicals numbers, including “We”re in the Money” and “Remember My Forgotten Man.”
Three on a Match–Follows the friendship of three girls and their fates after lighting three cigarettes with one match. Find out what the fate of the third person is.
Night Nurse–See Barbara Stanwyck take on a corrupt chauffeur, played by Clark Gable (with no mustache!), as she tries to protect the children, who will inherit a large fortune.
Female–An executive of a failing auto company, who is also female, takes advantage of her male employees, until a new engineer tries to make her settle down and save the business.
The Public Enemy–James Cagney is the ultimate gangster and this is the ultimate 1930′s gangster movie.