Pre-Code Hollywood

Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934

Thomas Doherty

Columbia University Press

Pre-Code Hollywood

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Pub Date: August 1999

ISBN: 9780231110952

400 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $26.95£21.95

Pub Date: August 1999

ISBN: 9780231500128

400 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $26.99£21.95

Pre-Code Hollywood

Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934

Thomas Doherty

Columbia University Press

Pre-Code Hollywood explores the fascinating period in American motion picture history from 1930 to 1934 when the commandments of the Production Code Administration were violated with impunity in a series of wildly unconventional films—a time when censorship was lax and Hollywood made the most of it. Though more unbridled, salacious, subversive, and just plain bizarre than what came afterwards, the films of the period do indeed have the look of Hollywood cinema—but the moral terrain is so off-kilter that they seem imported from a parallel universe.

In a sense, Doherty avers, the films of pre-Code Hollywood are from another universe. They lay bare what Hollywood under the Production Code attempted to cover up and push offscreen: sexual liaisons unsanctified by the laws of God or man, marriage ridiculed and redefined, ethnic lines crossed and racial barriers ignored, economic injustice exposed and political corruption assumed, vice unpunished and virtue unrewarded—in sum, pretty much the raw stuff of American culture, unvarnished and unveiled.

No other book has yet sought to interpret the films and film-related meanings of the pre-Code era—what defined the period, why it ended, and what its relationship was to the country as a whole during the darkest years of the Great Depression... and afterward.
Scholarly but at ease with a Hollywood aside or period slang.... Providing a nearly complete chronicle and casting unifying light on an unexplored era in film. Kirkus Reviews
Pre-Code Hollywood is a delight—a text as witty and lively as the dialogue to be found in most of the pre-Code films under discussion. Filmfax
Doherty keenly grasps the paradox at the heart of Hollywood censorship in the studio era.. Clayton Koppes, American Historical Review
A pleasure to read. Where film criticism often seems doomed to crush the power and the immediacy of the moving image under the weight of theoretical abstraction and protracted analysis, Doherty's prose is swift, vivid and energetic, much like the films that he addresses here. Jeffrey Geiger, American Studies
Pre-Code Hollywood is not only fun to read, it's instructive—a valuable, organized dip into a narrow slice of Hollywood history. Robert Gottlieb, The New York Times Book Review
Pre-Code Hollywood is not just a valuable exercise in film scholarship but also a fascinating cultural history of America in crisis. Doherty's discussion of Roosevelt's notorious manipulation of the mass media is itself worth the price of the book. Peter Kurth, Salon.com
Looks to become the standard work on this decidedly nonstandard age. Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
Excellent.... Thomas Doherty's Pre-Code Hollywood cogently examines the [Pre-Code] pictures and their political impact. Richard Corliss, Time
A detailed and fascinating study. J. Hoberman, The New York TImes
This is a fascinating, in-depth look at an overlooked Hollywood era. Doherty re-creates the horse-trading over censorship and the social tensions and casual racism of a young industry.... Highly recommended. Library Journal
1. On the Cusp of Classical Hollywood Cinema
Patrolling the Diegesis
Pre-Code Contexts
2. Breadlines and Box Office Lines: Hollywood in the Nadir of the Great Depression
The Lost Millions
A Synchronized Industry
"Mike Fright"
3. Preachment Yarns: The Politics of Mere Entertainment
Telegraphing Ideology
Class Distinctions
Professional Malfeasance
4. Dictators and Democrats: The Rage for Order
Hankering for Supermen
"The Barrymore of the Capital": The Newsreel Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
A New Deal in the Last Reel
The Mad Dog of Europe
5. Vice Rewarded: The Wages of Cinematic Sin
Packaging Vice
Models of Immorality
Figurative Literalness
Queer Flashes
"Women Love Dirt"
Working Girls
6. Criminal Codes: Gangsters Unbound, Felons in Custody
Rushing Toward Death: The Gangster Film
Men Behind Bars: The Prison Film
7. Comic Timing: Cracking Wise and Wising Up
Commentators on the Action
Story, Screenplay, and All Dialogue by Mae West
Newspaper Patter
The Blue Eagle and Duck Soup (1933)
8. News on Screen: The Vividness of Mechanical Immortality
Library Stock
The Newsreel Ethos
Covering Up the Great Depression
9. Remote Kinships: The Geography of the Expeditionary Film
Points on the Compass
Faking It: Phoney Expeditions and Real Deaths
The Dark Continent
10. Primitive Mating Rituals: The Color Wheel of the Racial Adventure Film
"He's White": Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
Red Skin, Red Lips: Massacre (1934)
East Mates West
"The Ethiopian Trade"
Nerve and Brains: Paul Robeson and The Emperor Jones (1933)
Beauty and the Beast: King Kong (1933)
11. Nightmare Pictures: The Quality of Gruesomeness
Rugged Individualism: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and Their Progeny
The Lower Orders Rise Up: Island of Lost Souls (1933) and Freaks (1932)
12. Classical Hollywood Cinema: The World According to Joseph I. Breen
"The Storm of '34"
Hollywood Under the Code
Post-Code Hollywood Cinema

Richard Wall Memorial Award

About the Author

Thomas Doherty is associate professor in the American Studies Department and chair of the Film Studies Program at Brandeis University. He is the author of Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II (Columbia, 1993) and Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s, and is associate editor of the film journal Cinéaste.