In a time of ‘supposed’ self-imposed censorship,
Precode posters seemed more racy and provocative then the films they
advertised. Anxious to increase box-office profits during The Depression and
the years of economic standstill, production companies used the simple and
effective philosophy: ‘Sex Sells’ in the movie posters and advertisements of
the early 1930’s. Below is the top 15 most provoking:
15. Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
14. White Woman (1933)
13. Tanned Legs (1929)
12. Ex-Lady (1933)
The beginning of Bette’s illustrious career and a
film that probably increased her hatred for Jack Warner.
11. Melody Cruise (1933)
10. Roman Scandals
9. Strictly Dishonorable (1931)
8. The Story of Temple Drake (1933)
7. Employee's Entrance (1933)
6. Wild Women of Borneo (1931)
I haven’t seen this film but I am assuming it is
pure Precode exploitation masquerading as an educational documentary.
5. The Mind Reader (1933)
4.Bad Girl (1931)
A nomination for the Best Picture Academy Award in
3. Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
Apparently the girl in the picture is Barbara
Stanwyck but I don’t see much of a resemblance.
2. Girl Without a Room (1933)
1. Sin of Nora Moran (1933)
Admittedly, I haven’t seen this film either;
however, going by this poster it looks interesting.
Known by Precode and musical fans for his inventive
and fascinating choreography, Busby Berkeley was also known by his friends and
family to be on occasions a hostile and uncontrollable drinker. It was on one night in 1935 that after
attending a late night Hollywood party Busby, supposedly drunk, caused a horrific
automobile accident instantly killing two people and injuring five others. But
like most celebrities caught on the wrong side of the law in the Golden Age of
Hollywood, the studios always came to their rescue.
Busby Berkeley aged 75
The Murder Trial of Busby Berkeley:
Busby Berkeley was born November 29, 1885 in Los
Angeles, California to a stage actress mother and actor father. Although he began his creative life as an
actor, after World War I, Busby started directing the dance scenes of several
1920’s Broadway musicals. He created his mark by removing the idea of
traditional female sexuality and the female form and focusing on the geometric
patterns chorus girls could create. Busby’s first major film effort was in the
Eddie Cantor musical ‘Night World’ (1932) and he soon progressed into creating
more complicated and lavish productions, such as, in ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’
(1933) and ‘Footlight Parade’ (1933).
Berkeley was at the height of his career after the
success of popular films, ‘Dames’ (1934) and ‘Wonder Bar’ (1934) and the
opening of his new film ‘Gold-diggers of 1935’ (1935) when the fateful night
occurred. It was the night of the 8th
of September 1935 and Busby was attending a party held by Warner Brothers
production chief William Koenig in Pacific Palisades. Anxious to make an
appointment with bandleader Gus Arnheim which was scheduled the next day, he
left the party early and still very much affected by alcohol.
What happened next is unclear, but witnesses
testified that Berkeley who was driving down the Roosevelt Highway at high
speeds, changed lanes suddenly and crashed head-on into a car and collided with
another. This resulted in the death of two people, caused severe injuries to
five others – with one later dying from the wounds - and left Busby badly cut
As Busby was in the public eye and a popular and
productive commodity for studios, he had to be protected. Therefore, to defend
the legendary choreographer against second degree murder charges there could be
only one contender, the brainy and equally legendary Hollywood lawyer Jerry Giesler. Giesler had become notorious in Hollywood
for successfully defending big stars against a wide assortment of legal charges.
He would later be the lead in the Errol Flynn
rape case, defend Robert Mitchum against illegal possession of drugs charges
and be involved Charlie Chaplin’s paternity case. He was known for his crafty
and outlandish style of conducting questioning and proving points.
Giesler (right) with Errol Flynn (centre)
Giesler with Charlie Chaplin
Giesler would have to pull out all the tricks for Berkeley’s
trial, with the big issues proving what in fact caused the crash. Was it
alcohol as some police and witness reports claim or was it, as his defence team
asserted, due to problems with his front tire and the dangerous nature of the stretch
of road? However, the jury believed the defence with two trials resulting in a
hung verdict and acquittal in the third.
Busby Berkely arriving at the first trial brought in on a stretcher
Although the case is legally closed, many have
questioned the verdicts and the influence of the studio system in achieving them.
The main issue has been the question of ‘drink driving’. How could a jury
believe that Berkeley with a history of alcoholism, who had just left a party
was not intoxicated, an idea that was collaborated by several witnesses and
policemen. Some sources have attributed this to the power of studio heads and
even concluded that bribery was involved. However, none of this has been proven
and, even though he was acquitted, it can be said the accident had a major
impact on the life of Busby and his success as a director.