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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

This Week in History - Jan 15 to 21

Everything you need to know about the goings-ons and gossip from this week in Precode Hollywood.       

      - 1929:

$15 Daily for Animal Imitators in Sound Films – Dave Allen, head of the Central Casting Bureau, got a call for a man who could howl like a dog. Request came from Fox for a Movietone production. Only one man was found on the books. Since talkers have come in calls have come to the central office for people to imitate parrots, chickens and cats.
Sue Carol’s Divorce – One of those ‘career’ divorce suits has been filed against Sue Carol, Fox player, by Allen H. Keefer, livestock commission man. Keefer and Miss Carol were married in 1925 and Miss Carol answered to the name Evelyn Lederer. Later the bride went vacationing on the Coast and happened into pictures. Keefer says he asked her to come home but she apparently refuses to sacrifice a career in favour of a domestic existence.  
Actress, Sue Carol
Broadway Melody – ‘Broadway Melody’ first MGM comedy with music will have its world premiere at Grauman’s Chinese on January 24. 

         - 1930:

Coloured Hallelujah Going to Jacksonville – ‘Hallelujah’ has been booked to open January 18 at the Palace, Jacksonville. This is the first southern booking for the all-coloured picture and was made only after a film critic conducted through her columns an open forum to bring out sentiment. 
A scene from 'Hallelujah'
Toning Down ‘Ex-Wife’ – With the Hays office objecting to ‘Ex-wife’, and Metro announcing abandonment, it is understood the studio will tone down the objectionable features in the story, change the title and made it at a later date. 

         - 1931:

Ayres Walks, Returns – After walking off the ‘Iron Man’ set at Universal on January 17 over a salary dispute, Lew Ayres was back on the job three days later. He had a long talk to Junior Laemmle and resolved the dispute. Ayres reported demands followed his success of ‘Doorway to Hell’ and Warners interest in his services.
Lew Ayres and Jean Harlow in 'Iron Man'
Kay’s 930,000 – This week in 1931, Kay Francis finalised her five year contract with Warners. It was for five years with Kay receiving $930,000 for the entire period. Her services start at $30,000 per picture.
Clara Getting Tough Break Says Paramount – Paramount has no immediate intention to call it quits with Clara Bow, although recent developments including placing Sylvia Sidney in a picture Miss Bow was to have made, made it appear that the redhead was on her way out. The film was ‘City Streets’. Paramount scheduled ‘Working Girl’ based on the play ‘Blind Mice’ as the next Bow picture. Miss Bow’s latest trouble, with Daisy DeVoe has the daily papers again shooting the harpoon into her ‘because she is good copy’. Whether this incident will affect her sales is something else again.

         - 1932:

Just Garbo – Metro will hereafter only bill Greta Garbo by her last name. As far as known it’s the first time any film personality has been so exploited.
Just Garbo
Mary Can’t Find Play or Picture – Mary Pickford has abandoned her idea of appearing in a stage play and is looking for a screen story. Says she can’t find a suitable play. The story she is seeking must have a ‘down to earth’ plot, be a comedy and be okay for kids.
Frank, the Fed – As a teaser campaign for ‘Frankenstein’, eight girls were employed to call everyone in the phone book and say, “Look out, Frankenstein is coming,” and hang up. One of the girls unwittingly called a bootlegger. He was out but the wife got the message. So she pulled the bathtub plug, sewering all evidence before she realised it was a gag.
‘Scarface’ New Title – Not only has Howard Hughes revised ‘Scarface’ but he has also changed the title. The picture, a print of which is now before the New York Censor Board, will be released as ‘The Shame of the Nation’. The film has had its theme changed so it is now described as strictly anti-gunmen propaganda.  

         - 1933:

Columnists May Yet Split Married Pair – Meddlesome chatterers, fan writers and columnists seem determined to break up the matrimonial life of Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Anytime one is seen without the other, the meddlers write a quip about strained relations in the household. Friends of the couple fear if this stuff keeps up it may eventually lead to a split of the couple. (Crawford and Fairbanks broke-up in May that year).
Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1932
Sanctuary is Off – After a series of headaches, Paramount has called off production on William Faulkner’s ‘Sanctuary’, a novel banned in several states. Trouble started for the studio on the writing of the first treatment which brought about a Hays’ office protest. Story went back for a rewrite and got a change of title to ‘The Story of Temple Drake’. When George Raft read the role assigned to him, he refused to do it. Story returned to the scenario department for still another revamp, but inability of writers to save anything of the original and still keep it clean brought about the ultimate decision to drop it.

         - 1934:

Our Gang Grows Up – All of the kid members of the Hal Roach ‘Our Gang’ with exception of two, Spanky McFarland and Stymie Beard, have grown out of their parts and have been given the boot. The first of the new slate of gangsters starts on January 22. 
Our Gang around 1930
Mae West Impersonator As Bus Line Shillness – One of the transcontinental bus lines is using a new type of promotional stunt. An actress impersonating Mae West will make the journey from New York to Hollywood. She will be accompanied by a coloured maid, making the usual night stopovers at hotels. Imitation Mae is not required to converse with strangers nor give autographs. Salary $150 weekly, job lasting three to four weeks. 
John Gilbert’s Split – John Gilbert and his wife, Virginia Bruce, separated on January 14 with Mrs Gilbert moving to the home of her parents. She took their infant child along. Couple let it be known they could not agree. They were married less than two-years ago.
Harlow, Authoress – Jean Harlow has completed an original novel, ‘Today is Tonight’, and has sold the mag serialisation rights to Cosmopolitan. Player stated the tome some time ago, finishing it during the past two months while she has been one the suspended list at Metro following her demand for tilt in contract salary from $1,500 to $3,000 weekly. 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

This Week in History - Jan 8 to 14

Carrying on from a few posts I did years ago I am hoping to do a weekly post on interesting news events and gossip from Pre-code Hollywood history. This can include everything from marriages to breakups, babies, film developments and release results. Let me know what you think of the pieces. The first highlights this week (January 8 to 14) and the newsworthy events in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933 and 1934. Enjoy!  

- 1929:

Alma Rubens
Objections to Alma Rubens’ Prowling – Actress Alma Rubens was not behaving to the satisfaction of her neighbours in 1929. A number of them her summoned to court on a charge of disturbing the peace with the actress pleading not guilty. It seemed Miss Rubens had a habit of prowling at all hours with a flashlight looking for something she never seemed to find.
Lon Chaney for Silence Only – Lon Chaney flatly refused to appear in talking pictures. He issued his decision when MGM officials tried to pursue him to appear in a talking short with other stars. Mr Chaney says he made his reputation as an interpreter of mysterious characters, that he has only one voice and it can’t be changed as he changes his makeup or character.
WAMPAS Elects Baby Stars – These lucky ladies were elected as the 1929 WAMPAS Baby Stars in January of that year: Jean Arthur, Doris Hill, Anita Page, Josephine Dunn, Loretta Young, Doris Dawson, Sally Blane, Betty Boyd, Helen Twelvetrees, Mona Rico, Ethlyn Claire, Caryl Lincoln and Helen
Foster.
The WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1929

- 1930:

Hawks’ Unit on Retakes when Air Crash Kills 10 – ten men were announced to have perished over the Pacific during the making of ‘Such Men Are Dangerous’ for Fox. The film was finished ten days before the disaster occurred but director Kenneth Hawks wanted to make retakes. It was during the retakes that two planes collided and fell burning into the sea. Crew from a third plane witnessed the tragedy.
Mayer-Thalberg Contracts With Metro for 5 Years – Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg of Metro studios and J. Robert Rubin, Metro’s counsel in New York, agreed upon new contracts for five years each in 1930. Under the agreements Mayer will have full charge of all business affairs and Thalberg will be in full charge of production.
Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg 
Benson Unit Changes – Elimination of the femme lead, withdrawal of Phillip Holmes from the cast and a switch in directors were the changes made to Paramount’s ‘Benson Murder Case’, starring William Powell. Frank Tuttle replaced Louis Gasnier as director. 

- 1931:

Lil Bond Gets Film Start in Stage Part – MGM announced it had obtained talker rights to ‘Stepping High’ in which Lillian Bond appeared on stage. Talker version was the first try for Miss Bond in pictures.
Lillian Bond
Mob Censors Cartoon – Spurred by the peasants’ clergy, a mob of countrymen started a demonstration against Disney comic cartoon ‘The Ghostly Hour’ in the town of Klaganfuris, Austria. The churchman said the trick shots of puppet skeletons dancing in a graveyard were “irreligious, immoral and blasphemous”.  
‘Quiet’ Now Banned in Vienna – All was finally quiet on the cinema western front by surrender of the Austrian Government to demonstrations of a few thousand hoodlums against Universal’s ‘All Quiet’. The prohibition followed three days in which the busiest part of Vienna was transformed into a real battlefield with mounted police charging the crowd and making 50 arrests after rioters smashed shop windows and caused heavy damage.

- 1932:

Dodging Hawaii – Radio’s ‘Bird of Paradise’ unit relocated in Florida in 1932 instead of Honolulu because of reported turmoil over attacks by natives on white women there.
Ignore Television – Television failed to create any big excitement at the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at New Orleans. Television was notably absent from the major displays and had only a minor presentation. 
Gilbert’s Gratis Offer – John Gilbert was so anxious to play the baron in ‘Grand Hotel’ that he offered to work gratis for the film. Metro assigned the part to John Barrymore.
‘Sell or Starve’ Routine Makes Fan Mag Writers Coast Bloodhounds – Variety paper exposed the lengths tabloids went to uncover dirt news and pictures. These included stealing portraits using candid cameras, working the friends of film names, posing as somebody else, talking to servants/ beauty shop workers and ‘going at it keyhole wise’. The paper named Greta Garbo as a target with photographers climbing a tree in Garbo’s backyard to get unexposed photos of her.
Greta Garbo

- 1933:

Zukor is 60 – Adolph Zukor celebrated his 60th birthday on Janurary 7 with a small party at his home.
Dorothy Burgess’ Jam Over Auto Accident – actress Dorothy Burgess was the target for a $25,000 damage suit and faced manslaughter charges. This was a result of a late December, 1932 auto accident in which her car collided with another and killed, Louise Manfredl, 17.
Dorothy Burgess
Dietrich Still Objects – Although Paramount withdrew its $185,000 suit against Marlene Dietrich and she had agreed to begin work on January 16 on ‘Song of Songs’, she appeared on the lot on January 6 and told the studio executives the story was even less to her liking in its present form than it had heretofore been. She declared she could not give her part a justifiable characterization. Someone must have talked her around as the film was released, with Dietrich in the starring role, in July 1933.

- 1934:

Waxing Mae – Mae West was the newest personality to enter the halls of Mme. Tussaud’s Wax Works, London in 1934. Paramount in New York was notified via cable and shipped a dress worn by Miss West in one of her pictures.
Mae West
Grant’s Illness Slows Paramount’s ‘Come on Marines’ – ‘Come On Marines’ on Paramount’s schedule for last month was shelved temporarily caused by the illness of Cary Grant in England and a partial story revamp by Byron Morgan. I’m not sure what happened between January 8 and the film’s release on March 23 but Grant did not appear in the picture.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

More amazing images from behind the scenes

Below is another selection of intriguing and revealing behind-the-scene stills from several well-known Precode films. For more images of actors and film-makers interacting when the camera stopped rolling check out my previous post here

1) Sylvia Sidney on the set of ‘Behold My Wife’ (1934)

2) Nancy Carroll & Richard Arlen on the set of ‘Dangerous Paradise’ (1930)

3) Spencer Tracy taking a photo of Madge Evans on the set of ‘The Show Off’ (1934)

4) The Stooges and Ted Healy with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable on the set of ‘Dancing Lady’ (1933)

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Precode Hollywood Quiz

This is my first attempt to create a quiz specifically for Precode hollywood lovers. I have tried to make it ‘medium’ difficulty with a few easy ones sprinkled throughout. I’d love any feedback on question difficulty and quiz layout as well as hearing everyone’s results. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

My Essential Precode - part 2

Part 2 of my essential Precode films:

            1) All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
A groundbreaking film showing a realistic and harrowing depiction of World War 1 from the viewpoint of new soldiers, led by Lew Ayres, and their first experiences of warfare. The men are showed as naive with romantic ideals of glory and nationalism. They are confronted by dying men, heavy fire and shrapnel and the horrors of early 19th Century war hospitals and amputations. For a film made so close to the conflict, it doesn't pull any punches or gloss over the reality of warfare. As you can imagine it received both critical acclaim - including the Outstanding Production and Best Director Academy Awards - and condemnation. The film was banned in many European countries, most fervently by Germany, for decades. It’s an important and entertaining film you will not forget easily.  

            2) Stranger’s May Kiss (1931)
Playing another one of her modern woman roles with disdain for married life, Norma Shearer, stars as Lisbeth a socialite faced with a choice between a stable marriage and the jet setting highlife. Robert Montgomery and Neil Hamilton play the two men vying for Shearers heart. In her usual manner, Shearer, takes off to Europe enjoying the nightlife, endless alcohol and a variety of men. Like always, she quickly gains a reputation as a ‘loose’ women. Not as groundbreaking as The Divorcee (1930) or A Free Soul (1931), Strangers May Kiss (1931) still has great Shearer lines, slinky, glistening gowns and exotic locations. Great for a lazy Sunday at only 80 minutes. 

            3) Night Nurse (1931)
Blink and you miss it, Night Nurse is filled with more action and drama than a modern 2 hour picture. The ever-commanding Barbara Stanwyck stars as a nurse who is tasked to care for two wealthy young girls who are slowly being starved to death by the family’s ruthless chauffeur played, in an odd role by Clark Gable. Gable’s chauffeur plans to kill the children and then marry their drunken mother (Charlotte Merriam) but finds the feisty, justice-oriented nurse refuses to let him finish his plans. A shocking film, even for modern audiences, Gable’s eagerness to slap around Stanwyck is cringe worthy. Both Stanwyck’s friend and nurse, Joan Blondell, and boyfriend/ bootlegger, Ben Lyon, are also great in this heart-stopping film. 

            4) Waterloo Bridge (1931)
More people have probably heard of the 1940 remake starring Vivian Leigh and Robert Taylor than the grittier and more realistic 1931 version. This highly controversial and censored film, stars Mae Clarke as a bitter and cynical prostitute during World War 1 London. The audience is in no doubt of her profession as early in the film she is literally trolling the streets looking for men to service. One night she meets Roy Cronin (Kent Douglass aka Douglass Montgomery) who starts falling in love with her despite her profession. As she begins to return the affection of the unaffected young and rich man, Clarke has to wrestle with her emotions, guilt and Cronin’s wealthy family. Clarke is another bright spot in Precode who can play gritty and hard characters as surprisingly sympathetic.

            5) Possessed (1931)
Joan Crawford and Clark Gable became a popular film team for MGM in the Precode era. My favourite of their pairings is Possessed (1931) which shows Crawford as a poor factory worker who rises to become the mistress of a wealthy attorney (Gable). Showing the film’s age, the central conflict of the movie revolves around whether Gable should legitimize the relationship with marriage or continue their life of ‘sin’. The pressure is mounted when Gable decides to embark on a political career. Despite the film being a tad out-of-date with reference to marriage, Crawford is a surprisingly independent and strong-willed character in spite of her poverty. She also has never looked better with spectacular fashion by Adrian and the hot chemistry between the two leads is undeniable.   
     
6) Frankenstein (1931)
No need to introduce this film, Frankenstein (1931) starring the incomparable Boris Karloff, is a cult classic. Karloff is assisted by Colin Clive in the title role; Dwight Frye as Frankenstein’s hunchback assistant; and Mae Clarke as Frankenstein’s worried fiancée. Adapted from Mary Shelley’s famous novel by the same name, if you haven’t already seen Frankenstein, what are you waiting for?!?
           
            7) Red Dust (1932)
Red Dust (1932) is a surprisingly upbeat romantic drama about the complications of a love triangle in a dangerous rubber plantation in the jungles of French Indochina. Clark Gable stars as Dennis Carson who is tasked with assisting engineer, Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) during Willis’s work in the plantation. Disturbing Carson’s plans is that Willis has brought his wife along, played by ladylike and sophisticated, Mary Astor. He is immediately attracted to her and sets about seducing her while her husband is on a surveying trip. Then, along comes wisecracking, coarse yet loveable prostitute, Vantine (Jean Harlow) who had previously had a casual fling with Carson. She proceeds to jealously stalk around the primitive cabin and block the adulterous couples every triste. For me Harlow is the shining light in this picture and, I think, the easygoing yet fiery Vantine is her ultimate role. Plus her scene bathing naked in a water barrel despite the fury of Gable is simply spectacular.  
    
            8) Rain (1932)
Based on the often remade W. Somerset Maugham short story ‘Miss Sadie Thompson’, the plot and themes were perfect for a Precode adaption. Joan Crawford stars as Miss Thompson, a prostitute who is stranded on an island in American Samoa and fills her time by partying and drinking with marines stationed on the island. Righteous missionary, Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston), vows to save her from her sins. When she refuses, he acts to have her deported to America where she is wanted for a crime. As he struggles to reform Miss Thompson and she fights against him, Davidson starts to fall for his student despite his high morals. Religious hypocrisy is a popular topic for Precode films and director, Lewis Milestone, doesn’t pull any punches. Crawford is amazingly gaudy with bright red, wide lips, exaggerated clothes and a dull, cynical expression. She definitely looks like she is having fun and it reflects on the quality of the film.           
   
            9) Blonde Venus (1932)
A very mature and adult film, I will always remember Blonde Venus (1932) for the thrilling moment when a glowing Marlene Dietrich emerges from a gorilla costume and begins singing ‘Hot Voodoo’ to an overcome nightclub audience. Dietrich stars as a nightclub singer who falls in love with a dying chemist (Herbert Marshall). They marry and have a son together. With her husband’s health not improving, Dietrich offers to return to the stage and finance his trip to Germany and treatment. While Marshall is away, Dietrich is pursued by millionaire and unbelievably handsome, Cary Grant, who offers her wealth and security. But Dietrich can’t forget her husband. Another great Precode Dietrich film, notable more for her incredible radiance and beauty than the plot.

            10) One Way Passage (1932)
A subtle and somber romance film starring Kay Francis and William Powell, One Way Passage (1932), is one of those films which stays in your mind hours and days after watching it. A heartbreaking story about star-crossed lovers - the terminally ill Francis and murderer sentenced to hang, Powell - who fall in love on an ocean liner bound for San Francisco. Both know (but don’t tell the other) they don’t have long to live but decide to enjoy the time they have together. This is a delicate movie which isn’t at all melodramatic or overdone. Francis looks great as always in her highly fashionable Orry Kelly costumes with Powell suitably suave and cool despite being a criminal. 


Saturday, 20 August 2016

My Essential Precode - part 1

I can’t believe I waited so long to create a list of essential Precodes. Looking at the most grounding breaking and entertaining of the era’s movies are something I think all people interested in Precode should do. I have done my best to try and condense all the films I have watched and enjoyed over the years into one list. I found, in creating the list, that several early 1930’s films I loved and could watch over and over, were probably not worthy of the name ‘essential’ despite my level of personal enjoyment. I first decided a list of 25 would be sufficient but could not decide on the films that should make up the limited number. As a compromise, I will make a list of 50 Essential Precodes. This is my first batch with the next one coming next week. The next half of the list is not finalised so any suggestions would be very welcome. Check out part 1 of my Essential Precodes:

    1) Anna Christie (1930)
The much anticipated first speaking role for Greta Garbo, Anna Christie (1930) is an interesting drama about a young women haunted by her dishonourable past. It shows Anna (Garbo) trying to repent her sins and find a stable life for herself. This film is all about Garbo, her famous first lines and continued allure despite her perfect facial expressions being corrupted by speech.

    2) Divorcee (1930)
A breakout film for Norma Shearer, who despite being a famous actor since the silent days, was typecasted in pure, ingénue roles before starring as the sexually liberated Jerry Martin. The film highlighted a double standard in society (which still exists today) which makes it acceptable for the husband to philander but not for his wife. Shearer appears as wife who discovers her husband (Chester Morris) is having an affair. After confronting her husband who proclaims that the relationship didn't "mean a thing", Jerry responds in-kind by sleeping with mutual friend Don (Robert Montgomery). Instead of behaving flippantly about Jerry's indiscretion, her husband demands a divorce. Outraged by the hypocrisy, Jerry responds by bedding as many men as she can get her hands on. A shocking film for its time and surprisingly relevant today, Divorcee (1930) is one of Precode's best. 

    3) Public Enemy (1931)
My favourite of the Precode gangster films, Public Enemy (1931), is a 360 degree view of Depression Era gangs who peddled liquor during prohibition. The movie shows the main character Tom (James Cagney) as sympathetic and human, featuring scenes of his hopeless childhood and close relationship to his mother. I couldn't help but like him, except of course for the famous grapefruit scene. It's easy to see why the censors hated this film. Tom is a criminal but likeable, dependable, relatable, skilled, the typical anti-hero.

    4) Dracula (1931)
The first speaking version of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, depicting the bloodsucking vampire has become understandably a cult classic. The well-known story of Count Dracula and his attempts to turn Mina (Helen Chandler) into a vampire while avoiding the suspicion of Prof. Van Helsing. While the movie has little special effects, Bela Lugosi, doesn't need assistance with his creepy facial expressions and close-ups enough to scare most audience members. This film, like others, has been put on a pedestal and people generally watch it pretty high expectations. Just remember, filmmakers didn't have the technology they do now, I think they did a great job despite it.

    5) A Free Soul (1931)
Another strikingly modern film starring the radiant Norma Shearer who seemed to rule the Pre-code era. Instead of portraying an extramarital affair, A Free Soul (1931) shows Shearer in a pre-marital sexual relationship with bad boy, gangster Clark Gable. The pair have no intension of tying the knot and Shearer has no qualms showing up unannounced and seducing Gable's character in - I must say - a dress that hides barely anything. The film is a testament to the changing societal attitudes and the power of Shearer. As well as being a great multidimensional plot and wonderful casting - including the performances of Lionel Barrymore and a young Leslie Howard, A Free Soul (1931) is surprisingly relevant and relatable today. 

    6) Trouble in Paradise (1932)
A sophisticated film, Trouble in Paradise (1932), is mostly known today due to the enduring reputation of director, Ernest Lubitsch. It is an entertaining, adult romantic comedy about a love triangle situation between Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall. Hopkins and Marshall are thieves who fall in love and decide to join forces to rob a beautiful perfume company owner (Francis). The con falters when Marshall and Francis start to get too cosy. This film is a great example of the Precode era's propensity for creating truly adult and sophisticated content. Its subtle humour is also amazing. 

    7) Red Headed Woman (1932)
The Precode platinum blonde, Jean Harlow, made a style change to star as the title character in the shocking and emotional, Red Headed Woman (1932). Like the main character in Baby Face, Harlow stars as Lil, a woman who will do anything to be rich and become a part of high society. Of course, being Precode, 'anything' means using her body and unquestionable sexuality. This includes desperately seducing a variety of rich men, breaking up marriages and even murder. Plus, in open defiance to Will Hays, Harlow's character is never punished for her actions. Note: a warning to some viewers, there is a kind of disturbing domestic violence scene which at the same time is pretty 'Fifty Shades of Grey'.   

     8) I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
A crime/ drama film starring Paul Muni as a wrongfully convicted prisoner who becomes part of a brutal Southern chain gang. He quickly escapes to Chicago and attempts to make a success of himself but finds his past never leaves him. Based on the true story of convict Robert Elliott Burn who was himself a chain gang member before escaping and becoming a fugitive. The film is a must watch simply for its impact on Depression Era America. Shocked by the use of chain gangs and the abuses and ill treatment of criminals which, despite being largely fictional in the movie, were a staple of many state’s judicial systems, society rallied against the behaviour.

    9) Scarface (1932)
A shocking early gangster film starring prolific and somewhat forgotten actor, Paul Muni, as crime boss, Tony, a thinly veiled characterisation of Al Capone. Scarface (1932) moves through Tony's journey from Italian immigrant to a leading member of a mafia gang to the head of a crime gang. The film is surprisingly violent especially as Tony sparks an all-in gang war filled with gun fights and massacres. Muni is commanding and brilliant.

    10) Freaks (1932)
Despite the film’s title, Freaks (1932) is surprisingly sympathetic and positive to the 'freaks' it forefronts. The movie follows a range of characters who work as carnival sideshow performers. Most had never performed in feature films before and do a great job. Interestingly it is the 'normal' characters who are portrayed as villains; with the main plot of the film describing trapeze artists Cleopatra's (Olga Baclanova) scheme to seduce and marry little person, Hans (Harry Earles) just for his money. All the characters support Hans and fight against Cleopatra. As well as this story, other subplots show the 'freaks' as living ordinary lives by falling in love and having children. Due to the film’s title I waited years to watch it, but found it heart-warming and unbelievably modern despite the themes.

    11) Call Her Savage (1932)
Clara Bow feature, Call Her Savage (1932), is full of elements which would have be staunchly banned just two years later. The film revolves around Nasa (Bow), a wild society woman who owes her rebellious and feisty nature to the fact that she is half white, half Native American Indian. Of course, her heritage is a dark secret with her mother cheating on Nasa's father with an Indian man resulting in her birth. Nasa rebels against her family, partying hard and marrying an abusive playboy. Despite learning the error of her ways, filmmakers ensure audiences get a long and shocking view of Nasa's debauched life from her party lifestyle and alcoholism to rape, pregnancy without marriage and prostitution. I don't care what anyone says, Precode Clara Bow is simply radiant. 

    12) Safe in Hell (1932)
Safe in Hell (1932) is an often overlooked Precode due to its lack of an enduring 'star'. The forgotten and very talented, Dorothy Mackaill, leads as the easy-going, nonchalant prostitute, Gilda, who fleas to a Caribbean island after she is accused of murdering her former pimp. While the audience is in no doubt of Gilda's profession, her boyfriend Carl (Donald Cook) doesn't seem to care and, not only helps her escape, but marries her on the island. Carl leaves the vulnerable Gilda on the island filled with criminals and all around dodgy dealers. Another look at the realistic consequences of the Great Depression, the film doesn't judge Gilda but is more sympathetic to her. Mackaill portrays her as basically a 'good woman' who faces impossible situations. A staple character in Precode. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

How did they get away with it? Advertisements for Footlights Parade (1933)

Hollywood studios during the Precode era were some of the best at promoting films. On some occasions the films publicity posters, advertisements and promotional events were more interesting than the films themselves. Footlights Parade (1933), a movie filled dozens of chorus girls in skimpy outfits put in even skimpier situations, was a dream for the Warner Bros publicity machine. They took advantage of the opportunity creating a collection of pretty risqué posters, advertisements and stills focusing on the movies chorus girls. See the best below: