1953 was the year the Production Code began to unravel, and in no short part due to the film, The Moon is Blue.
Laced with brazen questions brought on by Maggie McNamara , it’s William Holden who ends up holding all the moral ground in this story. It’s difficult to tell who is picking up who in the gift shop of the Empire State Building, and no way to tell what is about to follow! As Maggie accepts an invitation to Holden’s apartment she is well aware of what it may entail and has formed in her own mind how far is too far. Meanwhile, her insistence on staying out of the rain and cooking dinner at his apartment drives Holden out for groceries, leaving the girl unattended and fresh bait for David Niven. David is the father of Holden’s most recent female conquest, and there to talk about the grave insult he is responsible for, regarding his daughter; his insult-not sleeping with her. Thus progresses an interesting evening filled with accusations, assault, proposals, refusals, and confusion. It’s an excellent film, reminding me slightly of the brazen attitude found in The Voice of the Turtle.
This film, sprung from the Broadway sensation of the same name, was released WITHOUT the Production Code Seal, and while many feared that the film would be ill-received, all found that the cult following of writer/director Otto Preminger made it quite a success. The words Preminger refused to remove from the script that led to the movie being released without the Production Code Seal: Virgin, Mistress, Pregnant and Seduction.
Party Husband 1931 (First National)
The best part of Party Husband, which I feared may just be another one of these movies with a message, is when the husband emerges from a dark kitchen wearing non-removable lip rouge, and is caught by his wife. Mind you, she brought someone home too, but didn’t know he was hiding a girl in the dark kitchen. They do have a modern marriage after all! Something you see everyone attempting in the 30’s but no one accomplishing. The legs in this film come in the form of the socialites trying to seduce both halves of this married couple. Fake phone calls, and fake jobs luring the moths to the flame are nothing compared to the woman willing to fight for the man she loves- even when he’s not her husband. Laura, the wife, soon finds her modern marriage getting more modern when she discovers her biggest competition isn’t the local floozy, but her best friend since childhood, Kate. There’s a little more depth to this film than originally supposed as both the husband and wife realize what they’re doing, but neither really willing to fight for it. Thankfully, the mother comes to visit and slaps them all upside the head, and tells it like it is.
Road to Paradise 1930 (First National)
Loretta Young Times Two
A 17 year old Loretta Young plays double roles as Mary- the girl mixed up with jewel robbers, and Margaret- the high society lady they plan to rob. Both can read minds. This is a fast-paced cat vs. mouse story laced with twists and turns enough to keep you guessing if Mary will get caught up until the very last moment. Loretta showed excellent ability here to act two different characters and played Mary’s jittery, nervous and innocent to Margaret’s classy, poised and decisive. That’s all the story line I’m giving you, as its one you really do need to see for yourself to appreciate.
Three Wise Girls 1932 (Columbia Pictures)
“Oh, go away, I hate blondes.”
“Well I hate drunks, so that makes us even.”
Frustrated that she can’t get anywhere in her own little town, Cassie( Jean Harlow) goes to New York to make her own way as a model. While staying with her friend Dot, she learns from her well-to-do-friend Gladys that love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when you’re in love with a married banker. Of course that whole situation gets a whole lot fuzzier when Cassie catches the eye of the Gladys’ banker. Marie Prevost ( Dot) adds all the fun, wisecracks and perspective while Mae Clarke( Gladys) adds the dose of unpleasant reality. What’s more is that Cassie actually meets her knight in shining armor right at the beginning as she’s feeding him alka seltzer, and quitting her job as a soda jerk in NY, but she’s so clueless she has no idea that he’s actually the white knight! Of course it seems all the good men are already married, wanting divorces, and being unable to get them. Shame. Luckily one pulls through for our dear Jean Harlow…. we knew he would didn’t we?
Dames (1934 Warner Brothers): Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell
James( Powell) is trying to get money from the rich Uncle Ezra for his new broadway show, but Uncle Ezra wants nothing to do with that one branch of his family tree who is not an upstanding moral citizen. In fact, upon swearing that he will never let James in his house, Horace is gifted 10 million dollars from Uncle Ezra. And while the Hemingway family may be upstanding, it sure doesn’t look that way when Joan Blondell ends up in Horace’s railcar suite, in bed. A little bit of blackmail and the whole things fixed, but if Ezra finds out, the 10 million is off. Ruby Keeler’s face gets plastered all over the place in I Only Have Eyes for You, and Joan Blondell dances with the laundry. All while Mathilda, Ezra and Horace are drowning in a Golden Elixir that’s supposed to cure their hiccups, so much for the moral code at 79% alcohol.
Gold Diggers of 1933 (Warner Brothers): Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, and Dick Powell
“I believe I can make this girl transfer her affection from him to me.”
Down and out in the Depression, Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, and Dick Powell get it together to put on what they hope to be a successful show. But they’ll have to get through Warren William first if they expect to keep their leading man. What ensues is such fun as the girls take the rich stuffed shirts from Boston for a ride. Wanting to tell Brad’s brother the truth, the real Polly isn’t too happy that Joan Blondell has been pulling the wool over his eyes, but things all work out in the end.
With songs like Pettin’ in the Park and We’re in the Money, this musical set the standard for the musicals that helped pull the country out of the depression. Glow in the dark violins, the Forgotten Man March, and Warren William turning out to be a nice guy all make this a top notch musical.
Girl Missing(1933 Warner Brothers): Lyle Talbot and Glenda Farrell
“I brought you to Palm Beach, I had no intention of being a gentleman.”
Gold digger Daisy gets a headache when she realizes her playboy husband only married her to satisfy the stipulations of his father’s will, and subsequently goes missing. But when the cops arrive they find not only a missing Daisy but also a dead man in the garden. Could it all link back to the gigolo Raymond Fox? Daisy, after all, was a chorus girl in Manhattan before acting the lady in Miami Beach. Enter two sassy sleuths who knew all about Daisy, have a hunch about Raymond and really need that 25k reward since their sugar daddy skipped town and left them with a hotel bill.
A very fun mysterious romp in Forbidden Hollywood, with sexual advances, lies, rackets, and fake accidents. Make sure to see this one.
Illicit(1931 Warner Brothers): Barbara Stanwyck
“There have been women who want to park their heads on this manly bosom.” Illicit
Fearing the loss of her freedom Ann refuses to get married to a man desperately in love with her. The thing is is she’s absolutely hopelessly in love with him too…but her parent’s divorce left a sour taste in her mouth and she can’t bring herself to tie the knot. Still they can’t go on like this when rumors start circulating. So Dick tells her he can’t see her anymore unless they get married. So in the spur of the moment, and against all her better judgment Ann consents, even though she doesn’t believe in marriage, believes it causes oodles of problems, and is urged by a close friend not to do it. The friend is probably the most intriguing thing in this film, because he too doesn’t believe in marriage, loves Ann just as she is, and wants nothing more from her. Dick begins to go astray with an ex-girlfriend and Ann calls him out on it. With a fresh take on problems so prevalent in society today, this pre-code can teach lessons on how to love, be married and not lose your identity.
Barbara seem so young in this film at 24, and still her acting is spot on! It’s so impressive. And keep an eye out for the devilish Ricardo Cortez as Price Baines, another spot on performance.
The Crash(1932 First National): George Brent and Ruth Chatterton
Real Life husband and wife( Brent and Chatterton) were paired in so many great films together, but The Crash while chronicling the newlywed pair through the up and down of the market leaves something to be desired. George Brent is hard to believe as the helpless husband trying to get back on his feet after the crash, and while Ruth Chatterton plays the wife finding sanctuary in Bermuda fairly well, her sheep farmer suitor from Australia is somewhat miscast.
The Crash highlights the interesting fact that most young men on Wall St. often allowed their wives to get close to the older wealthier gurus in the market so that they could get ahead. Ruth Chatterton plays the wife made to exchange favors for important information just before the market turns. It’s her decision to stop exchanging and lie to her husband that causes everything to come crashing around them.
Registered Nurse(1934 First National): Lyle Talbot, John Halliday and Bebe Daniels
“It’s bad enough to be married, but when the man is a nut, tough.”
Registered Nurse follows Ben( Daniels) as she navigates what it’s like to be secretly married to a man who is insane. With temptation in the forms of Dr. Connelly (Lyle Talbot) and Dr. Hendrick (John Halliday)Ben has to deal with the truth that she cannot get divorced, and the guilt she’ll feel if she tries to get away from it all. So when her insane husband discovers that his insanity could be treated for good, he goes to see Dr. Hendrick, upsetting Ben’s whole world, and maybe setting a few things straight in the mean time.
An excellent twist at the end( in several different places at once it seems), really lends to the great story here, and makes it a must see pre-code.