Saturday 22 February 2014

Precode Pix: In the Great Outdoors

Actresses appeared to be loving all things natural in the Precode era. The use outdoor, slightly bohemian and action shots were quite popular with publicity departments during the early 1930’s. The result was pictures that appeared more artless, visually interesting and less formal then many of the classic portrait shots. Below is a great selection of photos from Precode actresses enjoying all things from the environmental world:   

Dolores del Rio

Toby Wing

Jean Parker

 Mary Carlisle

Fay Wray

Shirley Chambers

Joan Blondell 

Adrienne Ames

Loretta Young

Sunday 16 February 2014

Precode Beauty Tips

Take the advice from Precode’s biggest stars on how to stay screen ready:

Tip 1 - For Luscious Lips:
“For clearly defined, smooth rouged lips, follow Mary Carlisle’s advice: ‘Outline lips horizontally with edge or point of stick, then fill in vertically with flat side.’”
Tip 2 - To Even Skin Tone:
 “Almond meal mixed to paste with lemon juice makes a good, safe bleach, says Maureen O’Sullivan. Apply to cleansed skin, let dry, remove with cold water. Leaves the skin soft, clear.”

Tip 3 – Food and Skin:
“Una Merkel considers cucumbers a definite skin beautifier, not only in creams and lotions, but in the diet. Una looks as if she enjoyed them, too.”
Tip 4 – For Soft, Smooth Hands:
“Mary Carlisle remembers to slip on cotton gloves over her well-oiled hands before retiring, a sure way to flower-like skin. Specially treated sleeping gloves come for those with unusually sensitive skin.”

Tip 5 – Something Extra:
The beautiful Jean Harlow used a beauty mark to add to her attractiveness. “Beauty-marks are for the fair-skinned only, where the contrast between black and white is striking and exotic.”
For anyone wanted to measure their attractiveness. This is a devise used to measure a person’s beauty by looking at an individual’s symmetry. According to Max Factor and its inventors the nose, the forehead and between base of the nose and tip of chin should be the same length. The distance between the eyes should be the same as the length of the eyes. The actress is Sheila Terry.



Saturday 15 February 2014

The (Not So) Merry Wives of Reno (1934)

A witty play on words from Shakespeare’s iconic play, Merry Wives of Reno (1934), focuses on the muddled lives of three quintessential Precode couples – perfect newlyweds, a cheating much younger wife and an older couple that never seem to see eye-to-eye. The champions of the film are three second banana staples of the early 1930’s – Glenda Farrell, Guy Kibbee and Hugh Herbert - who cause trouble for the youthful loved up couple, Donald Woods and Margaret Lindsay. Their performances only outdone by the hilarious comic relief from Eloise, a playful, animated and always present sheep.
Frank (Woods) and Madge (Lindsay) are a sugary married couple celebrating their first anniversary. As gifts they buy each other expensive overcoats and plan a romantic diner. Their neighbours, however, are the unhappy couple Tom (Kibbee) and Lois (Ruth Donnelly) whose decade’s long marriage has been filled with arguments, plate throwing and husbandly infidelity. Bunny (Farrell), a wealthy wife, with her husband out of town is bored and looking for excitement invites Frank over on the pretence of buying a boat from him. He soon finds out she wants more than just a sea vessel and tries desperately to leave the apartment before the energetic Bunny causes him more trouble. Thankfully it comes in the form of Tom who is also having a casual fling with the bored housewife arrives, drunk, looking for a fun time. Frank exits, negligently, leaving his new overcoat behind. Minutes later in another comedic twist, Bunny’s husband, Colonel Fitch (Herbert), returns from his business trip, glowing and satisfied, bringing along his new prized possession, Eloise the sheep. Flustered and still intoxicated, Tom exits, also unfortunately leaving his overcoat beside Frank’s in Bunny’s hall closet. 
Margaret Lindsay and Ruth Donnelly
When the husbands finally return overcoat-less – and one of them drunk – to their wives dual arguments ensue. Both creating invented stories as to the location their jackets and not succeeding to persuade their spouses that they are innocent. Impulsively, Madge and Lois conclude that the only solution is to divorce their lying, cheating and mistreating husbands and head to Reno. On the train ride the wives, in a serendipitous moment, finally meet, discover their connection and resolve to leave their marriages behind and find laugher and good times in Reno. Hot on their tails is their jilted husbands who have also joined forces desperate to win their wives back and restore their domestic homes. Following behind is Bunny and Colonel Fitch also on the train destined for Reno with a hidden Eloise under the passenger’s seats.

They all stay at a traditional Reno hotel filled with parties, alcohol and newly divorced women. All paying customers can have any need met by the accommodating concierge, Al, played by the hilarious Frank McHugh, who spends most of his time organising parties and acting as a kind of gigolo for lonely women. The couples constantly switch from separation to reconciliation as they navigate through misunderstandings, drunken nights and other women. In the end all it takes is a taste of their own medicine to bring the wives back to the comfort of their husband’s arms and a happy conclusion for this light-hearted Warner Bros. comedy. 

The use of supporting character actors brings a different edge to the picture. Although it is witty and poignant when it comes to marriage fidelity and infidelity, the film lacks slightly with casting. Both Farrell, Gibbee and name are perfect accompanying actors but seem not strong enough to carry a picture with name and name also a little weak. It appears to be a truly ensemble cast that could have benefited from the inclusion of someone like Joan Blondell or Warren William. The film shines with Eloise who is surprisingly vibrant and dramatic for a sheep. Frank McHugh is also brilliantly included as the naughty but helpful concierge. Merry Wives of Reno is not a great Precode drama or commentary on social issues but is a fun, light way to spend an hour in both in the 30’s and now.     


Wednesday 12 February 2014

Banned: The Screen Life of Scarface (1932)

Finally released in 1932 the original Scarface film has become a legendary example of the 1930s gangster and crime genre and the use of shockingly realistic depictions in Precode Warner Bros. productions. But its journey to pop culture immortality was filled with more road blocks, obstacles and authority inference then the characters of the movie experienced. For its unabashed portrayals of criminals, killings and glorification of gangsters and, in its original version, political hypocrisy and lack of repentance, Scarface is one of only a handful of films significantly censored during the Precode period and even banned in several states and cities.

The movie featured successful gritty actor Paul Muni alongside Osgood Perkins, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley and iconic horror staple Boris Karloff. The film centres on Muni as an Italian immigrant caught up in the highly territorial gang warfare of 1920’s Chicago. He works under mafia boss Johnny Lovo (Perkins) and, after murdering another head Big Louis Costello, the pair take over his organised crime operation on the south side of the city. This mostly focuses on running speakeasies and manufacturing and distributing prohibited alcohol. But, Tony (Muni) becomes increasingly greedy interfering in the businesses of other gangs, such as, the Irish mafia and develops an obsession for machine guns. His ambitions makes him become increasing erratic and he becomes the key focus of public attention, law enforcement and politicians. The mainstream edition of the film ends with a shootout with Tony eventually surrounded by the police and gunned down after attempting to escape.    

Produced by perfectionists the two Howards – Howard Hawks and Howard Hughes – and directed by both Hawks and Richard Rossen the film, based on a 1929 novel by Armitage Trail, was not destined to sit well with censors. While in the production phrase the movie was beginning to draw interest from the Hay’s department mainly for its apparent similarities with the real-life drama of Al Capone. This included comparisons to many murders and massacres Capone was involved in. In addition, the film’s main writer, Ben Hecht, claims men working for Capone confronted him to ensure there was no blatant connections between the stories and some historians have even asserted the men were working on the film as consultants.

During the three month shoot there was increased pressure from Hays who was worried the film would be too violent and glorify crime. The script had to be changed several times; first to alter the depiction of Tony’s mother to make her less accepting of her son’s lifestyle and gang involvement – calling him ‘bad’ and ‘no-good’ - and a second to remove hints of political hypocrisy. Hughes was reportedly soo frustrated by the interference by censors he told Hawks, "Screw the Hays Office, make it as realistic, and grisly as possible." The original version of the film was completed early September 1931 but had to remain in production to shoot an alternative ending. In an attempt to appease the MPAA, a second version was created showing Tony’s being caught, tried and hanged for his crimes. This is opposed to the original ending which showed Tony killed by police bullets but not held accountable for his sins. Other edits were also made before the official release of the picture; namely, a sub-title ‘Shame of the Nation’ was added, the inclusion of a moral statement in the beginning of the film, removal of blame on law enforcement and removal of incestual undertones between Tony and his sister Francesca (Dvorak).

However the exhaustive changes proved not enough to pacify state and city censor boards. The film was ultimately banned in five cities and five states and censored further in others. The main issue was between Hughes and the New York censor board. After the film was banned – the organisation even refusing the sanitized ending - the producer took the board to court for the rights to show his film. After several lawsuits the restrictions were lifted.  In Chicago, the location of the film, the showings were delayed by over a year. Similarly there were issues selling the film overseas with Nazi Germany prohibiting the movie from entering the country. The issues with the overall circulation of the film made it – according to historians – not much of a box office success with Hughes forced to withdraw it from viewings and it wasn’t widely seen until its reissue in 1979.

Although its initial success is questionable, Scarface (1932) is undoubtedly a cult classic today. Its raw and realistic depiction of crime, gang warfare and the 1930’s depression society, is shocking even to contemporary audiences and shows the daring and will of the movies creators. The issues and controversy surrounding its original release – although arguably detrimental firstly – only adds to its notoriety and legend today.