DVDBeaver are preparing information for a 'Pre-Code' page. We hope to compile a complete list of these films - or the most prominent ones at least.

 

PRE-CODE - Created before the censorship Production Code (also knows as Hays Code) that was instituted in 1934 and was in effect for about 30 years (abolished in 1968). Technically, 'Pre-Code' describes films between March 1930, when the Production Code was adopted, and July 1934, when it was amended and enforced.  The Code disallowed profanity, excessive violence, illegal drugs, risqué sexual elements.

 

   

 

Between 1929 and 1934, Hollywood was governed by a voluntary code of decency. During this period, women characters were often tough-talking, sexually aggressive, and independent. Under pressure from church and state decency groups, a code with enforcement powers was implemented in 1934. The effect of the 1934 code (which remained in effect until the late 1960s) has been hotly debated recently. LaSalle, film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, makes it clear what he thinks, blasting the code as a measure "to prevent women from having fun. It was designed to put the genie back in the bottle' and the wife back in the kitchen." He calls the code, as enforced by Joseph Breen, "anti-art," antiwoman, and anti-Semitic.

 

By July 1934, responding to pressure from what dissolute screenwriter Ben Hecht called "churches and civic leagues still stand guard against the art of the underpants," Hollywood agreed to a program of Catholic censorship led by Joseph Breen, a staunch, starchy body. For nearly four years, the movie capital had alternately mouthed and ignored the provisions of the 1930 code, particularly its list of "Don'ts and Be Carefuls": VD, ridiculing religion, seduction, rape, depictions of theft or murder, gruesomeness, men and women in bed together, surgery, drugs, miscegenation and nudity.

 

These films are simply incredible! It's a totally different world. Unfortunately, most of these movies are not available on DVD and even some VHS are priced astronomically. According to some rumors, Warner Brothers is preparing a pre-code set to be released next year.

 

Some of the best examples are:

 
42nd Street (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
A Free Soul (1931) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Animal Crackers (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Animal Kingdom, The (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Applause (1929) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Arrowsmith (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
As You Desire Me (1932) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Baby Face (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD
Barbarian, The (1933) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Bat Whispers, The (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Behind Office Doors (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Betty Boop - America's Sweetheart (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM FRANCE HERE
Betty Boop's Rise to Fame (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM FRANCE HERE
Bird of Paradise (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
The Black Cat (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Blonde Crazy (1931) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Blonde Venus (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE and REVIEWED HERE
Born to Be Bad (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Call Her Savage (1932)  NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Check and Double Check (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Cleopatra (1934) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Cocoanuts, The (1929) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Counsellor at Law (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Damaged Lives (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Dark Horse, The (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Death Kiss, The (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Design for Living (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Dinner at Eight (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Divorcee, The (1930) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Dixiana (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Dracula (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Duck Soup (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Easiest Way, The (1931) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Ecstasy (1933, Czech - aka Ekstase) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Employees' Entrance (1933) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Female (1933) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Footlight Parade (1933) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Frankenstein (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Freaks (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Free and Easy (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Front Page, The (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
George White's Scandals (1934) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Goodbye Again (1933) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Grand Hotel, The (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Hell's Angels (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Horse Feathers (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
I Cover the Waterfront (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Illicit (1931) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
I'm No Angel (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Indiscreet (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
International House (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Invisible Man, The (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
It Happened One Night (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Kennel Murder Case, The / Nancy Drew...Reporter (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Kept Husbands (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
King Kong (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE, HERE REVIEWED HERE
Kongo (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Ladies They Talk About (1933) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Lady for a Day (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Lady Refuses, The (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Lady with a Past (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Little Caesar (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Lonely Wives (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Love Me Tonight (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Mädchen in Uniform (Germany, 1931), aka Girls in Uniform AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Mata Hari (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Match King, The (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
The Merry Widow (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD IN BRAZIL HERE or VHS HERE
Millie (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
The Miracle Woman (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Monkey Business (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Morocco (1930) AVAILABLE ON GERMAN DVD HERE ,REVIEWED HERE
Mouthpiece, The (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Mummy, The (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Naughty Flirt, The (1931) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Night Nurse (1931) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Of Human Bondage (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
The Old Dark House (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
One Way Passage (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Phantom Broadcast, The (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Platinum Blonde (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Public Enemy, The (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Purchase Price, The (1932) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Queen Christina (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Rain (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Red Dust (1932) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Red Headed Woman (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Roman Scandals (1933) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
S.O.S. Iceberg (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Scarface (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Scarlet Empress, The (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
She Done Him Wrong (1933) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Sign of the Cross, The (1932) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Sin Takes a Holiday (1930) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Skyscraper Souls (1932) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Smiling Lieutenant, The (1931) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Sphinx, The (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Story of Temple Drake, The (1933) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Street Scene (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Svengali (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Tarzan and His Mate (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Tarzan the Fearless (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Three on a Match (1932) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Tonight or Never (1931) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Trouble in Paradise (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Twentieth Century (1934) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE AND REVIEWED HERE
Under Eighteen (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET
Vagabond Lover, The (1929) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
What Price Hollywood? (1932) AVAILABLE ON VHS HERE
Whispering Shadow, The Vol. 1: Chapters 1-6 (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Whispering Shadow, The Vol. 2 Chapters 7-12 (1933) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
White Zombie (1932) AVAILABLE ON DVD HERE
Young Bride (1932) NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD YET

 

 

Pre-Code Boxsets:

 

Pre-Code Hollywood #1 - The Risque Years (Of Human Bondage / Millie / Kept Husbands) Pre-Code Hollywood #2 - Bird of Paradise and The Lady Refuses Pre-Code Hollywood #3 - Behind Office Doors Pre-Code Hollywood #4 - Lonely Wives
           
  

This is some more stuff... Articles HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE

 

TCM's Pre-Code Discussion Forum is HERE


 
   

 

If you want to get a feeling how these moves are treasured by the movie lovers, look HERE:


 

Some books on Pre-Code (click covers or titles for more info):

 

 

Daryl says:

 

Yes, I've been a huge fan of pre-Code. Some interesting notes: when films were re-released in the 1940s, some of the films were actually reedited, in order to make them more "compliant" with the Production Code. One major example that i can think of: Frank Borzage's A MAN'S CASTLE (which was made in 1933, just prior to the Code's implementation). In the movie (it might be Borzage's finest film, i think), Spencer Tracy picks up a girl, played by Loretta Young; she's starving and he winds up taking her to a restaurant and ordering a lavish meal. Turns out he can't pay either: the fancy suit he's wearing is actually for a job (he's a walking billboard, and the suit lights up), and he's actually a bum living in a shanty town. She moves in with him. She gets pregnant. They can't actually get married, but another bum (who used to be a judge, i think, something like that, it's been years since i saw the movie) gives Trina (Loretta Young) his late wife's wedding gown, and performs a ceremony (but it's not really legal). Tracy then gets hooked up with a smalltime hood; they try a robbery, but almost get caught. In the escape, they shoot a guard. A woman drunk (played by Marjorie Rambeau) shoots the hood; Trina and Bill (Tracy) are on the run, and the final shot is the two of them in a freight car on the railroad, as she cradles him (she's still wearing the wedding dress).

Now: when the movie was reissued after 1935, in some prints, the "wedding" is put in right after Trina and Bill come back from the evening on the town, so that they are "married" throughout the movie. (But it makes no continuity sense: why is she wearing this wedding gown at the beginning, and then later there are scenes of her getting the gown from the ex-judge, and then she wearing that gown for the end of the movie?)

Film Forum's Bruce Goldstein has been programming pre-Code festivals regularly for the past decade. There's an avid pre-Code audience here in NYC.

Just as Film Noir often brought out the best in studio technicians (cf. people like Henry Hathaway, who did some marvelous noirs, but wasn't the greatest director at 20th Century Fox), so pre-Code often gave license to a lot of talent. One great example: GALLANT LADY. The initial project was a weepie starring Ann Harding: a young woman falls in love with a pilot, has sex before marriage, but his plane crashes before the wedding. She has a baby and has to give him up. But she can't stop longing for her baby, and soon gets a job as a governess... to her own son! The wealthy wife is sick and soon dies.... oh, you know the rest! But what LaCava does is fill the film with characters (including a drunken disbarred lawyer, played by Clive Brook, and an interior decorator, played by the character actress Cecil Cunningham) who are always making jokes and wisecracking. When Harding gets maudlin, they make a joke. The movie is funny. (The lawyer finds her when she's despondent and thinking of suicide, and he gets her a job with the interior decorator. And it has a "happy" ending where Harding agrees to marry Otto Kruger, the wealthy man who adopted her baby.) LaCava had a great time in the pre-Code era: his 1933 BED OF ROSES, and his 1932 THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH are some of the funniest movies ever. The development of "screwball" comedy came from the attempt to keep some of the irreverence of the pre-Code era alive in the age of greater restrictions and censorship.

What Howard Hawks did which was so marvelous was he discovered that the screwball aesthetic (the wisecracks, the male-female bandying of innuendo) could be applied to "drama": that's where ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP come in. They're screwball comedies in adventure film settings. Those films show how pre-Code sensibilities can be adapted to the strictures of the post-Code industry.

(It is hard, now, to explain why certain people were such stars in the pre-code era. Constance Bennett is an example. In her pre-Code movies, such as BED OF ROSES, she was... she was playing a hooker, though rather glamorous. In her pre-Code movies, she often took the path of least resistance, i.e., she was the shop girl who accepted the offer of the boss to become his mistress, and then she lived luxuriously until she met an honest guy who was shocked at how she made her living. Or she was the poor girl who wound up having a baby by the rich boy, and had to suffer as a result. But the trick was that Constance Bennett, a soigné actress if ever there was one, wasn't about to suffer in rags or emote recklessly: she may have sinned, but she was always cool, sophisticated and glamorous.)
 

 

These are some of the lists from Amazon (by no means complete), HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

If you can help us maintain our list please email me HERE.

The Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) was a set of guidelines governing the production of motion pictures. The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA, later to become the Motion Picture Association of America or MPAA) adopted the code in 1930, began effectively enforcing it in 1934, and abandoned it in 1967. The Production Code spelled out what was and was not considered morally acceptable in the production of United States motion pictures.

   


Enforcement
As adopted in 1930, the code had no effective method of enforcement. A mechanism for enforcement was created in 1934. For the following twenty years or so, virtually all motion pictures produced in the United States adhered to the code.

The Production Code was not created or enforced by federal, state or city governments. In fact, the Hollywood studios adopted the code in large part in the hopes of avoiding government censorship—preferring self-regulation to government regulation. Thus, adherence to the code was always mostly voluntary. In the mid-1950s, a few major producers began to openly challenge the Code. By the mid-1960s, Code enforcement had become virtually impossible. The Code was abandoned in 1967 and replaced, in 1968, with the MPAA film rating system.

Before the Production Code
Before the adoption of the Production Code, many perceived motion pictures as being immoral and thought they promoted vice and glorified violence. Numerous local censorship boards had been established, and approximately 100 cities across the country had local censorship laws. Motion picture producers feared that the federal government might step in.

In the early 1920s, three major scandals had rocked Hollywood: the manslaughter trials of comedy star Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle (who was charged with being responsible for the death of actress Virginia Rappe at a wild party), the murder of director William Desmond Taylor (and the revelations regarding his lifestyle), and the drug-related death of popular actor Wallace Reid. These stories, which happened almost simultaneously, were sensationalized in the press, and grabbed headlines across the country. They seemed to confirm a perception that many had of Hollywood—that it was "Sin City".

Public outcry over perceived immorality, both in Hollywood and in the movies, led to the creation, in 1922, of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (which became the Motion Picture Association of America in 1945). Intended to project a positive image of the movie industry, the association was headed by Will H. Hays, who had previously been United States Postmaster General and the campaign manager for President Warren G. Harding. Hays pledged to impose a set of moral standards on the movies.

Hays spent eight years attempting to enforce a moral authority over Hollywood films, with little effect. The Hays office did issue a list of "Don'ts" and "Be Carefuls" in 1927, but film-makers continued to do pretty much what they wanted.

1930 to 1934: the 'pre-Code' era
With the advent of talking pictures in 1927, it was felt that a more formal written code was needed. The Production Code was written, and adopted on March 31, 1930, but no provisions were made for effective enforcement. The period between 1930 and 1934 is often referred to as the 'pre-Code' era because, even though the Code existed, studios mostly ignored it.

This and future codes were often called the Hays Code due to its leadership. Although Hays' name is thus often associated with censorship, he was fairly mild-mannered and easily persuaded and manipulated.

1934 changes to the Code
The MPPDA responded to criticism of the racy and violent pre-Code films by strengthening the Code. An amendment to the Code, adopted on June 13, 1934, established the Production Code Administration, and required all films to obtain a certificate of approval before being released. Joseph I. Breen was appointed head of the new Production Code Administration. The Code was further fortified by the creation of the Catholic Legion of Decency, which designated "indecent" films that Catholics should boycott.

Under Breen's leadership, enforcement of the Production Code became rigid and notorious. The Code prohibited any reference in a motion picture to illicit drugs, homosexuality, premarital sex, profanity, prostitution, and white slavery. Films could still be violent, and feature heterosexual romance. Smoking cigarettes was still allowed and even encouraged. Films could not endorse hatred of a racial or ethnic group, but the Code also prohibited interracial relationships or marriages. The power of Breen to change scripts and scenes angered many writers, directors, and Hollywood moguls.

The first major instance of censorship under the Production Code involved the 1934 film Tarzan and his Mate, in which brief nude scenes involving a body double for actress Maureen O'Sullivan were edited out of the master print of the film. Another famous case of enforcement, dramatized in the 2004 Martin Scorsese film The Aviator, involved the 1943 western The Outlaw, produced by Howard Hughes. The movie was denied a certificate of approval and kept out of theaters for years, primarily because promotion for the film focused attention almost exclusively on Jane Russell's breasts. Eventually Hughes was able to persuade Breen that the breasts did not violate the code and the film could be shown.

The enforcement of the Production Code led to the dissolution of many local censorship boards. Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs Department prohibited the importation of the foreign film Ecstasy (1932), starring Hedy Lamarr, an action which was upheld on appeal. The United States Supreme Court had already ruled that motion pictures were not protected by the First Amendment.

Provisions of the Code
The Production Code spelled out specific restrictions on movie language and behavior, particularly sex and crime—though Hollywood developed ways to get around some of these restrictions and keep audiences coming back to the theaters. It prohibited nudity, suggestive dances, and the ridicule of religion. It forbade the depiction of illegal drug use, venereal disease, childbirth, and pregnancy outside of marriage. The language section banned dozens of "offensive" words and phrases, leading to the shocked outcry from many moviegoers when the film Gone with the Wind included the word "damn." Criminal activity could not be depicted on film in a way that led viewers to sympathize with criminals. Murder scenes had to be filmed in a way that would discourage imitations in real life, and brutal killings could not be shown in detail. The sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld. Adultery and illicit sex, although recognized as sometimes necessary to the plot, could not be explicit or justified and were not supposed to be presented as an attractive option.


 




 

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