Book Review – Pre–code Hollywood – Sex, Immorality, & Insurrection In American Cinema 1930–1934

One parallel I’ve recently noticed that exists between non-fiction writing and filmmaking is that the question of scope is very much relevant to both. If you want to truly convey your message and your narrative, you had better not lose the reins and have control of where you are taking your audience/reader.

What’s most impressive about Pre-Code Hollywood is that while it covers a vast array of topics it’s always tying back to cinema. If one is to attempt to be comprehensive in covering the how and why advertising and film had perhaps their wildest, most defiant short span in America then many things need to be accounted for: what the films were (including a vast array of subgenres); why they were which touches on many sociopolitical upheavals worldwide during this volatile time and what industry politics and machinations were that allowed producers and studios to so openly scoff at the Production Code in its early years.

In short, there is a lot to discuss and there is virtually nothing this book leaves uncovered. There were a number of subgenres that truly mark this period like Prechment Yarns, Gangster Films, Prison films, those are fairly well-known, but then there’s also the Dictator Craze, the subversive traits running through many films, the Depression-tinged tales, whether in large or small doses, that touched on obvious or at times more timely side effects of the economic hardships facing the nation and the world.

While those kinds of effects may all seem obvious it was also a time that was revolutionary in film. Sound was new and the one-liner and fast-talking dame were coming into vogue. It was a time where there was a craving for the morality play of the Three Little Pigs from Walt Disney and also for the inappropriate innuendo of Mae West; in short, pretty much anything goes.

This creative bedlam, of course, could not last. The brushback, and how that all came to a close, is also included. It’s truly rare that in the history of anything that a four-year-period can be so crucial, yet here is one. I had, of course, learned of the inception of the Production Code and of this period, but for years had only the vaguest notion of what this era was truly like and why, even having seen many of these films. With this book you’ll walk away with a much deeper and richer understanding of it. For not only was it a wondrous, yet brief stint, but it also set the stage for the true Hollywood Classical style to emerge.

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