2017-01-04

notmypresident: (Countdown)
After splurging most of my Christmas money on the Erasure box set, I decided to use a bit of what was left over to pick up a few volumes of the "Forbidden Hollywood" DVD box sets. Warner Home Video has been releasing these collections for several years now, but I never allowed myself to by any. But hey, that's what leftover Christmas money was made for, no?

precode.jpg

I've always been fascinated by censorship — well, both fascinated and repulsed. Censorship is, after all, just another form of repression. And in the case of Hollywood, films were repressed for more than 40 years after the strict implementation of the Hays Code in 1934. Movies were under strict creative rules that imposed "guidelines" on what was "acceptable" and anything that was considered objectionable was censored. Scripts had to be approved under the Production Code before any filming began, under the very real threat of not being distributed to theaters.

But in the years before Hollywood was stifled, film makers pretty much had artistic freedom — within certain parameters, of course. Mind you, "artistic freedom" does not automatically equal "artistic genius," as these box sets clearly reveal. Most of the films are quite trivial and show that Hollywood was still evolving from the silent film era. And yet, the difference in tone and subject matter from films produced under the Code are quite surprising. Subjects like adultery, prostitution, female empowerment, and even murder take center stage, all without the shame later imposed by the Code.

One of the biggest differences that I noted is that "bad" people don't always get their comeuppance. In Employees' Entrance Warren Williams plays a businessman who will do anything to keep his department store afloat. By the end of the movie, Williams is still in power despite having caused one employee to commit suicide and despite having driven another into the poor house. In Ex-Lady Bette Davis plays a successful artist who isn't interested in getting married and who casually sleeps with the man in her life. "Skyscraper Souls" is another Williams film, once again playing a ruthless businessman who has built the biggest building in New York City (I love the matte painting showing its size against the nearby Empire State Building). Williams doesn't quite fare as well here as he did in Employees' Entrance, but he only meets his end after once again ruining the lives of those around him. The movie also features a rather startling suicide scene that is definitely an "Oh no, they didn't!" moment.

I think my favorite so far is Baby Face, with a young Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck plays a downtrodden young woman whose mentor tells her that the only way for her to break free from poverty is to use her sexual power over men. And that's exactly what she does when she moves to the big city. I loved the way the movie uses a skyscraper miniature interstitial to show Stanwyck's rapid climb up the business ladder, from floor to floor. Baby Face has just about everything the Hays Code would later forbid, so it's the perfect example of Hollywood repression. And Warner Home Video provides both the Pre-Code Baby Face and the heavily censored final release of the movie, which came after the crackdown.

It might not be to everyone's taste, but these Pre-Code collections showcase just how serious repression can be. Imagine where we'd be had popular culture not spent 40+ years convincing everyone (for instance) that married couples slept in separate beds. Sigh.

And now, Another Hot Guy.

handsome.jpg