Friday 27 September 2013

The Extases of Censorship

‘Extase’ (1933) was a notorious and tarnished film even before any copy made its way from its Czech origin to American shores. The heavily talked about scenes of a near naked Hedwig Kiesler aka future scene legend Hedy Lamar and confronting close-ups of Lamar’s face during orgasm became legend amongst the Hollywood community and underground film enthusiasts. But the illustrious films journey into US cinemas was not as quick and easy as many eager filmgoers would have wished. In the dark days of Hays code censorship and with the MPPDA now under the direct and unwavering eye of conservative Catholic Joseph Breen, every scene and piece of dialogue was monitored. Kisses were shortened, double beds were torn apart and any implication of adultery, pre-marital affairs or, in the most part, passionate sexual relationships were removed from the screen. Along came ‘Extase’ around this period with its adulterous leading lady, nudity and blatant examination of female sexuality – a seemingly hopeless case.

The film was officially premiered on January 20, 1933 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Later that year filmmakers attempted to sell the movie to American exhibitors. As the industry was still operating under a Precode, self-censorship form of the Hays Code, it should have been easier for the film to be seen by audiences who were as this time enjoying such controversial and risqué films as ‘Female’ (1933) and ‘Bitter Tea of General Yen’ (1933), right? Well not quite, the Catholic Legion of Decency – a powerful organisation aimed at reducing immoral content in films and who later was instrumental in altering the Pre-code system – condemned the film as “morally objectionable”. A year passed and films entered a stricter, controlled style that would govern filmmaking for the next few decades.

Joseph Breen
Two years after the films European release Samuel Cummins attempted to import the film into the US. Upon its entry customs sprang into action seizing the film and burning it before Cummins had the chance to launch an appeal. Determined he then tried to push through a heavily edited version – created originally for release into Germany – with the nude bathing scenes and hints of adultery removed. This version was allowed into the country by customs officials.
In 1936, a US distributor attempted to have the film given the seal of approval by the Hays Code which would allow the picture to be given a country-wide release. After ten months of lobbying they were refused. Breen even came out against the film commenting in a memo to Hays that it was, “highly – even dangerously – indecent”. His official reply to the distributor was:

“I regret to advise you that we cannot approve your production Estase that you submitted for our examination yesterday for the reason that is our considered unanimous judgement that the picture is definitely and specifically in violation of the Production Code. This violation is suggested by the basic story…in that it is a [story] of illicit love and frustrated sex, treated in detail without sufficient compensating moral values.”

In December 1940 after five years of debates and struggles ‘Ecstasy’ was finally released to US viewers…without the seal of approval. Its distribution now came down to the discretion of state censor boards whose opinions were widespread and varied; for example, New York allowed the film while Pennsylvania completely banned it and others either restricted viewings or demanded cuts.

 The film was now available - perhaps not in a wide release or in its original form – to US viewers but the movie would not be rid of controversy. Lamarr’s first husband, wealthy munitions manufacturer Friedrich Mandl, heavily objected to the film and his perception that it exploited his young wife. He attempted to buy as many copies of the film as possible during their marriage from 1933 to 1937. It was another attempt at a kind of independent censorship but thankfully for film history and the future career of Lamarr which flourished perhaps somewhat from her controversial role, he was unsuccessful.

The film is now available through both legal and illegal means on the boundless entity that is the internet. It is strange in an era of high technology and quick and simple communication from country to country, to understand the concept of having a feature film completely blocked from entering a nation. Foreign films are becoming less foreign. Today almost nothing is off limits, filmmakers are allowed the privilege to create what they choose and show what they choose. Whether this is a positive step for movie production or not, it surfaces the most interesting and controversial question of all – the question of censorship itself.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

And if you're classic film mad...

Check out YouTube Channel: JustOneNightOnly1. I have been obsessed with this site for months. It’s amazing, especially for Precode content. The owner has gotten around Youtube’s restrictions regarding copyright and ownership by only uploading films over a 24 hour period and then deleting them. This prevents films from being removed by Youtube and the channel from being banned.  Every day three or four new films are featured, many mainstream and sort after classics such as great Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Mae West and Ingrid Bergman films and plenty more. Generally everyday there is a new Precode film which is a great way to add films to anyone’s collection.

Below they have also compiled an introduction video with a few movies that will be included on the channel, you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXzzPzdW0uY 



Wednesday 18 September 2013

Name That Star Answer and 'That' Hair

And the answer is…Paulette Goddard.

I think I need to make my next ‘Name That Star’ a little harder next time or at least think about changing the name of the image when I upload it. Haha. But to me, the most interesting feature of the photos is the amount Paulette changed from both eras. She definitely rivalled the Queen of the Hollywood transition, Joan Crawford, and definitely were a factor in her future fame. Her blonde tresses were not only an indication of the style trends of the early thirties (note some of Bette Davis’s ridiculous Precode hair do’s) but also her close and trusting relationship with her second husband, Charlie Chaplin, who she met in 1932 during her Goldwyn Girl days and who reportedly persuaded Paulette to alter her hair colour. Below is a little article about Paulette’s blonde days, her early relationship with Chaplin and her transition into becoming a brunette.
The Blonde Hair and Charlie Chaplin
Paulette Goddard began her film career, like many classic actresses, as a blonde. I have read somewhere that she originally began wearing platinum wigs over her natural brunette locks for her first roles in several Laurel and Hardy and Hal Roach shorts. The blonde hair stuck and she reportedly dyed her lengths after receiving more significant parts and a place in the popular ‘Goldwyn Girls’ troupe. She appeared as a chorus girl in several Eddie Cantor musicals, for example, ‘The Kid from Spain’ (1932), ‘Roman Scandals’ (1933) and ‘Kid Millions’ (1934). Her life changed when, in 1932, she met legendary film director, writer and actor Charlie Chaplin.  According to CharlieChaplin.com, Chaplin was invited to a weekend cruise aboard a yacht owned by United Artist chairman and president, Joe Schenck.  The pair met during the party and Chaplin gave Paulette sound financial advice regarding a proposition of a $50,000 investment she was going to make into a dodgy movie company. They became close from this meeting.
Chaplin and Paulette during late 1932:

It was during the period between her film appearance in ‘Kid Millions’ (1934) and her next role as ‘The Gamin’ in Chaplin’s classic, ‘Modern Times’ (1936) that Paulette was persuaded by Chaplin to change her hair colour back to a more natural – and some say more beautiful – raven. The part was only a minor role but it was definitely a step-up from her chorus girl background. The alteration to her appearance and her positive professional and personal relationship with the film-maker enhanced her standing among the Hollywood community. Although the six year marriage ended in 1942, its conclusion was probably the least bitter and sensational of all Chaplin’s divorces perhaps due to the friendship they still shared or Paulette’s enduring gratitude over Chaplin’s good hair style advice from a decade before.   
Chaplin and Paulette in ‘Modern Times’ (1936)

Sunday 15 September 2013

Precode Double Take: Name That Star Edition!!

Today I came across a few pictures of a famous classic actress in her Precode days. I couldn’t believe that she is almost unrecognisable from the more mature, popular star she would become. I thought I would do a “Precode Double Take” like I have done before with other classic actresses that made quite distinct physical changes as the era and styles changed. I’m sure many Precode geniuses will recognise her as she was part of a very famous institution in the 1930’s. Comment below if you can identify her. I will post the answer tomorrow.
The Precode Blonde Bombshell

The mystery lady in the late 1920’s:
Here she is again, in the middle, with Thelma Todd:
Some great cheesecake shots:


Good luck…

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Spotlight on Raquel Torres

The half-German, half-Mexican, Raquel Torres provided another sexy, feisty and exotic edition to Precode comedies, dramas and adventure films. Born Paula Marie Osterman on November 11, 1908 in Hermosillo, Mexico, the Osterman family migrated early to Hollywood and Torres spent most of her childhood there. She began her film career twenty years later in the innovative film ‘White Shadows in the South Seas’ (1928) which was the first of MGM’s silent productions to feature synchronized music and effects.  The film went on to receive the Best Cinematography Oscar and was a fabulous entry for Torres into the film industry. Her exotic ancestry did not affect her elevation into talking pictures unlike some of the popular European beauties and she was featured in the part-talkie ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’ (1929) together with Lili Damita and Ernest Torrence after her debut picture. This film began Torres typecast as the ‘Island Girl’ in a number of tropical, foreign adventure movies. Her Spanish beauty and dark eyes made her a favourite in B-graders, ‘The Sea Bat’ (1930) and ‘Aloha’ (1931) and, a welcome change, as the female counterpart to the hilarious Precode comedy team Wheeler and Woolsey in ‘So This is Africa’ (1933).  She landed her most memorable role alongside the Marx Brothers in their unforgettable film, ‘Duck Soup’ (1933). It would be one of the last films in her short career.
Raquel Torres with Wheeler and Woolsey
In 1934 at a party, Torres first met New York stockbroker Stephen Ames in Hollywood with his wife actress, Adrienne Ames. They were attracted to each other and bonded over cold remedies – as Torres was ill at the time – but they relationship did not go any further because of Ames’ marriage. A year later the pair met again, this time in New York, Ames now divorced and Torres newly single they struck up a relationship. They married some time later. It was Ames who, although became a fairly successful movie producer in the mid-1940’s, persuaded Torres to retire from the film industry and her last appearance was a bit part in the 1936 Mae West comedy, ‘Go West Young Man’. Ames died almost 20 years later in 1955.
Raquel Torres and Stephen Ames  
Four years later Torres married actor Jon Hall famous for his handsome and equally exotic good looks. The son of actor Felix Hall and a Tahitian princess he enjoyed a long but not overly popular movie career. The couple reportedly were divorced a few years later and then subsequently remarried. Hall committed suicide in 1979 probably due to severe pain from bladder cancer.
Torres, after the ending of both her marriages, retreated into a private life in Malibu, California. She once again reached headlines in 1985 when her house was one of many destroyed by a fire that swept through the area. Her place was mostly destroyed but she escaped unharmed by the flames. She died two years later August 10, 1987 from complications following a stroke aged 78. Although her career was not long, Torres will always be remembered to Precode fans as a sexy, feisty Spanish beauty to rival the more popular likes of Lili Damita or Dolores del Rio.  


Thursday 5 September 2013

More Edwin Bower Hesser: Gallery 2#

More from photographer Edwin Bower Hesser:

Louise Brooks:

Dolores del Rio

Anita Page:

Leila Hyams

Jean Harlow:

Jeannette McDonald:

Myrna Loy:

Marie Prevost:


Monday 2 September 2013

Edwin Bower Hesser Gallery 1#

Edwin Bower Hesser was a popular Hollywood photographer during the silent era and early talkies. He created beautifully sensual images often with bright, golden undertones. In 1925 he began his own arts magazine ‘Arts Monthly Pictorial’ which featured pages of nude/ semi-nude women. He was also the famous photographer of a handful of semi-nude shots of Jean Harlow in posing around Griffith Park, published in his magazine in 1929. I have not included this pictures because they are a little risqué, but let me know if you want to see them. He also created a three-colour system for photography – named appropriately ‘Hessercolor’ – used on the set of early Technicolour films, ‘Becky Sharp’ (1935) and ‘La Cucaracha’ (1934). Below I have included some of his most beautiful shots of several Precode stars and hope to add more in future posts:
Carole Lombard:

Joan Crawford:
Sue Carol:
Dixie Lee:
Virginia Bruce:
Ann Harding: