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The Awful Smell of the Dead: WWI and the Frankenstein Monster

Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror
Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror

It has been one hundred years since “the war to end all wars” ended. And in his new book, Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror (https://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Wasteland-Great-Origins-Modern-Horror/dp/1640090932), W. Scott Poole explores how the carnage of the first world war gave birth to the modern horror film.  “The horror created over the last few decades owes so much to ideas that appear in the films made by veterans of the Great War after 1918,” writes Poole. “Armies of the living dead… vampires… murderous slashers — all these appear in the work of the directors of the First World War era.” As does a re-imagined version of the Frankenstein monster made popular by Universal Studios in the nineteen thirties and forties.

The seeds were planted early after the armistice. German directors F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang — who both fought in the war — introduced horrors of wholesale slaughter (Nosferatu [1922]) and mechanization (Metropolis [1927]), respectively. Even actors like Bela Lugosi, who served in the Austro-Hungarian army, knew well the horrors of WWI. It most certainly had to have an effect on their work.

Cesare, the somnambulist
Cesare, the unwitting “soldier”

The argument is not new. Film scholars like David Skal for some time now have noted that traces of post-war trauma can be seen in the silent films of the nineteen twenties.  Perhaps the finest of all German expressionist films of the silent era, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920), was, reputedly, directly born out of the war; the script, written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, has been argued by some writers (like Jon Towlson in his Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present (https://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Subversive-Horror-Cinema-Countercultural-Frankenstein/dp/B01FGIZPF0)) to have come directly from the authors’ embitterment with the military and distrust of authority after World War I. This distrust comes across directly in the film as Cesare, the somnambulist (a symbol of the unquestioning soldier) is controlled by Caligari (the authority) and made to be a murderer. Janowitz, an officer in the war, would have experienced the carnage first-hand. He would later become a staunch pacifist. For his part, Mayer feigned madness, and argued with an army psychiatrist that would eventually declare him unfit to fight in a war that Mayer deemed “criminally insane.”

Letters from the front show just how terrible the war was.

“We wear our respirators because of the awfull (sic) smell of the dead,” wrote one British soldier (http://www NULL.nationalarchives NULL.gov NULL.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/rail-253-516-fww-letter-1-111 NULL.jpg). French Corporal Louis Barthas — in notebooks (https://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Poilu-Notebooks-Corporal-Barrelmaker-1914-1918/dp/0300191596) that have been recently published in English — recalled “the disagreeable tic-tac of machine guns,” that turned men “into marmalade.” And a German medical officer, the novelist and poet Hans Carossa, recounted (https://www NULL.independent NULL.co NULL.uk/news/world/world-history/history-of-the-first-world-war-in-100-moments/a-history-of-the-first-world-war-in-100-moments-carnage-in-the-carpathians-i-thought-he-was-dead-i-9466931 NULL.html): “Turning round, I looked down on the dying face of a man of about 30… through a grey cape which covered his breast a slight vapour was rising… under his torn ribs, his lungs and heart lay exposed.”

With reports like these, was it any wonder then that men who returned from the war were unable to escape the images of mangled bodies and corpses piled high in the mud?

Director James Whale, certainly, drew upon his experiences in the war. Captured on the Western Front and having spent time in a German prisoner-of-war camp, he was the first man to direct the great anti-war play, R.C. Sheriff’s Journey’’s End (https://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Journey%27s_End). In his autobiography, Sheriff said of Whale’s production that “through innumerable small details, he [Whale] had given it a touch of crude romance…” and that “above all it was real,” adding that “any man who had lived in the trenches would say, “This is it. This is what it was like’.” Whale would go on to make the lead character in The Old Dark House (1931) a cynical WWI veteran. In 1937, he would direct The Road Back, the story of German soldier trying to return to civilian life.

But Whale is best remembered — and rightfully so — for Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

In talking to Publisher’s Weekly (https://www NULL.publishersweekly NULL.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/77499-a-century-of-screams-pw-talks-with-w-scott-poole NULL.html), Poole directly makes the connection between the piles of bodies a soldier would have seen to the imagery used in Whale’s Frankenstein.

“One of the things that’s important and generally forgotten in terms of soldiers’ and civilians’ experience of World War I is that there probably had been no other time in history when human beings had been exposed to such a large number of dead bodies for extended periods of time. This is an aspect of the trenches on the Western Front that every soldier’s memoir talks about. It’s a very direct experience that some of the iconographic horror images of the 1920s and the 1930s—probably most famously James Whale’s Frankenstein—deal with.”

Frankenstein (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)

Whale’s work has been viewed using the prism of the first World War before — most notably by Christiane Gerblinger in James Whale’s Frankensteins: Re-Animating the Great War. (http://www NULL.cineaction NULL.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/issue8283sample NULL.pdf) And bloggers like Kimberley Lindbergs (http://streamline NULL.filmstruck NULL.com/2013/09/19/in-the-trenches-with-james-whale/) have picked up Gerblinger’s argument and run with it. Lindbergs, in particular, goes out of her way to show side-by-side comparisons of digging in the trenches juxtaposed with Frankenstein and Fritz looking for bodies in the cemetery. It is a relatively effective argument, considering that it is know that Whale used leftover sets from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) in Frankenstein.

The basic premise is this: that the Frankenstein monster played by Karloff is so radically different from the creature described by Mary Shelley because he was shaped by the events of the Great War (and, to a lesser extent, the Great Depression).

But can we presume that Whale intended for the the implication to be there? Certainly, Whale’s imagery of bodies on operating tables, and overcrowded and unkempt graveyards add to the argument. It is the medical establishment — the doctor — that makes monsters. It is the doctor that holds in his hands the power of life and death. It is easy to make this argument: compare Frankenstein’s lab with the surgical hospitals of the first World War. They are both theaters where bodies are stitched back together.

But this is all conjecture, and somewhat of a leap from experience to screen as there is no real evidence that Whale intended the comparisons between his monster and the soldiers of the Great War.  Whale himself only once even barely referenced the war (in an off-hand remark delivered in his inimitable style), saying “A director must be pretty bad if he can’t get a thrill out of war, murder, {and] robbery.” Indeed, Whale seemed to treat the war as any other influence on his life. Arguably, his homosexuality is a major theme to be explored in works like Bride of Frankenstein; butthe sub-text of the war just really isn’t there.

Why then do authors like Poole, Skal, Gerblinger and Lindbergs insist there is a connection?

WWI facial reconstruction
WWI facial reconstruction for wounded soldier Eric Wallace

Like a wounded solider, the monster bears the scars of battle. His face is a patchwork reconstruction. His voice has been silenced. His rebirth — coming into being as if coming back to civilian life — is fraught with rejection and suffering.  Skal and Poole both point out that, owing to advances in medicine, WWI was the first war in which men didn’t automatically die of their wounds. Disfigured men — like Universal’s vision of the Frankenstein monster — would walk the streets alongside of “normal” people. Their daily struggle? Acceptance — not pity. Much like Frankenstein’s creation. It is us who see the resemblance most clearly.

The answer, then, may lie in the makeup of the monster itself. In Shelley’s book, the creature was assembled from the better parts of bodies; by her account, he was somewhat attractive, with long black hair and haunting eyes. Sure, there was something not quite right about him — an unease that comes from all dopplegangers — but the monster that Mary Shelley created could not outright be called repulsive. Nineteenth century stage plays moved the needle a bit more toward the grotesque — with Edison’s early 20th century monster (https://www NULL.ihorror NULL.com/watch-this-restored-frankenstein-short-film-from-1910/) going to almost comical extremes. But there’s somethings special about the Karloff incarnation that not only shocked audiences, but made them sympathetic to the plight of the monster. A powerful combination. And one that can be attributed to the collaboration of Karloff himself, Whale, and the master makeup artist Jack Pierce.

Boris Karloff and Jack Pierce
Boris Karloff and Jack Pierce

In a 1967 interview with the fan mag For Monsters Only (http://jack-pierce NULL.blogspot NULL.com/2015/02/jack-pierce-in-monster-magazines-part-1 NULL.html), Pierce said he spent 3 months researching “anatomy, surgery, medicine, criminology, ancient and modern burial costumes and electrodynamics” before doing any sketches for the monster. Since Frankenstein wasn’t a skilled surgeon, Pierce figured that the scientist would opt for the easiest way to insert a brain into a corpse’s head. He came up with the neck bolts because Frankenstein was supposed to use electricity to bring the monster to life (unlike the alchemy of Shelley’s novel). Scars abound because of Frankenstein’s lack of finesse with sutures.

WWI introduced much that would become the stuff of nightmares: terrible machines (given form in Lang’s Maschinenmensch?); sickness in the trenches (the “disease” brought by Murnau’s Nosferatu); and men programmed to be murderers (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). But it’s most lasting effect — on the world and the films that reflected it — was the overt display of horror that comes from one of the more visceral aspects of battle. Disgust. Despair. Degradation. Disfiguration. And the awful smell of death.

More than any other terror to emerge from cinema, Whale’s, Karloff’s and Pierce’s vision of the Frankenstein monster — so far removed from its literary roots — captures the real-life horror that was the first world  war. Why? There is no cold machine. No fangs of a vampire. There is only the sullen eyes of a disfigured thing that was once a whole man. Someone easily mistaken as a victim of war.

 

Pre-Code Hollywood: Murder, Prostitution & What It’s Like to be God

Pre-code Joan Blondell in a 1933 Warner Bros. promotional still
Actress Joan Blondell, suggestively showing skin in a 1932 promotional still

The early years of talking motion pictures were not the glory days of wholesome family values. To the contrary, films of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood showed as much skin, violence, and all-around debauchery as your average gangsta rap video. Oh, and there were plenty of gangsters, too. And prostitutes. And murderers. Even a doctor who thought he was God. It was a period often referred to as “pre-code” Hollywood

Pre-code Ginger Rogers in Rafter Romance
Ginger Rogers and “a glimpse of stocking” in Rafter Romance (1933)

During “pre-code” Hollywood, a good motto for filmmakers could have been “Anything Goes (https://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=Wd1w5tn040g)” — a Cole Porter song of the period.  Indeed, for an actress like Ginger Rogers, “a glimpse of stocking” was really, nothing shocking in the 1930s, and — as early the 1920s, when “damn” was common in the intertitles of silent movies — writers did “use four-letter words.”

Released in 1934, “Anything Goes” was an extremely successful musical, and the song, popular at parties. But the party for Hollywood would soon be over, as 1934 was also the year that enforcement of the restrictive Hays Code (https://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Production_Code) began.

ENTER WILL HAYS
William H. Hays
William H. Hays, looking about as happy as you would think a guy like this would

Former Postmaster General Will Hays — for whom the code is named — started his crusade in 1922, during the age of silent films. Themes were quite adult in the age of the silent film. A world war and criminal element that came with Prohibition had hardened hearts to scenes of violence; and the roaring twenties brought with them a sexual promiscuity that had never before been seen in American society.

But scandals like the arrest and trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle on manslaughter charges enraged moralists; Arbuckle was acquitted, but not before the newspapers of the day sullied his reputation and put all of Hollywood on trial. Social reformers, the clergy, and much of middle America began to blame Hollywood for societal ills. Bolstered by religious and civic leaders aghast at the content of (now) talkies, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) began to take notice. And Hays became its president.

In agreement that some restrictions be put in place, the film industry met with Hays’s office; the result was the introduction of his “Formula” in 1924. It asked that filmmakers to provide plots of films be provided to his office before production began. His efforts were somewhat futile at the beginning, but public sentiment forced the hands of studio heads just a few years later.

DO’s and DON’Ts
Photo by A.L. Schafer
A.L. Schafer’s (in)famous 1940 photograph entitled “Thou Shalt Not”

In 1927, the studios came together again to establish a list of thirty-six self-imposed “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls.” These included everything from “licentious or suggestive nudity” to “ridicule of the clergy.”  But there were no penalties or enforcement.

Pre-code “don’ts” and “Be Carefuls” were still quite common. Crusaders like  Martin Quigley (editor of the Motion Picture Herald) and a Catholic priest named Daniel Lord tried to impose their own codes in 1929, but to little avail.

Of course, the Great Depression was more of a concern for most folks, and Hollywood saw itself as producing needed escape from the drudgery of daily life. For a few short months, no code would be enforced. But that all changed in 1930. In February of that year, several studio heads — including Irving Thalberg of MGM — met with Lord and Quigley. After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of a revised code. One of the main motivating factors in adopting this code was to avoid direct government intervention. So on March 31, 1930, the MPPDA agreed it would abide by the revisions.

Still, Hays had no real power.

In 1931, The Hollywood Reporter mocked the code, quoting an anonymous screenwriter who said “the Hays moral code is not even a joke… it’s just a memory.” For at least a few years, then, Hollywood’s little secret was that, pretty much, pre-code practices would stay — and anything goes.

But by June 13, 1934, an amendment to the code established the Production Code Administration (PCA) which required all films released on or after July 1 of that year to obtain a certificate of approval before being shown.

The age of pre-code Hollywood was pretty much over. But not before some brilliant films were made.

Among the more infamous pre-code films made before June, 1934, the following five stand out as perhaps the most controversial.

SAFE IN HELL (1931)
Safe in Hell
Safe in Hell advertisement from the Daily News Standard, January 6, 1932

Billed as a comedy, SAFE IN HELL tells the story of a New Orleans prostitute named Gilda (Dorothy Mackail, whose photo is seen in the marquee area of this post). Early on, she accused of murdering Val, the man who led her into prostitution. To help her evade the authorities, old boyfriend, Carl, helps smuggle her to safety on a Caribbean island. They are to marry, but he must leave on business, promising to return. Meanwhile, a Mr. Bruno — the island’s self-described jailer and executioner — makes advances on Gilda, as do many of the criminals on the island; Bruno even intercepts money and letters from the boyfriend in an effort to crush her spirits.

Soon, the audience learns that Val is not dead. Gilda is terrified, and given a gun by Bruno to protect herself. It comes in handy when Val tries to rape her. She kills him and then is put on trial for murder. A sympathetic jury is about to acquit her when Bruno threatens, regardless of verdict, to arrest her for possessing the murder weapon (it makes little sense, I know, but remember, Bruno pretty much controls the island).

The sentence would have Gilda at his mercy, with the implication that she would have to perform sexual favors. Defying Bruno, Gilda returns to the judge and gives a false confession of killing Val. Presumably, she is so embarrassed and humiliated by the situation (and the movie itself), that she prefers execution. The film ends with Gilda being taken to the gallows.

Criticized in the press for being implausible, sordid — even depressing — the film did not receive many good reviews. Tonally, it is quite dark. Rape of the main character is a repeated threat throughout, and the ending is quite a downer. How anyone could have ever promoted it as a comedy is beyond me.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
"Now I know what it's like to be God!"
“Now I know what it’s like to be God!”

The plot of Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN is (or at least should be) well known. Sure, there’s the monster (innocently?) drowning a little girl (a scene cut from the original release in many states, including NY, MA, and PA) and the unease of costumed Karloff in a young woman’s boudoir, but it is when Colin Clive’s monster comes alive that the public was shocked — and not just by Jack Pierce’s brilliant makeup. Instead, it is Clive’s cry of “now I know what it’s like to be God,” that was scandalous.

The aforementioned states of New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania removed the line altogether from the film. The state of Kansas removed even more.  FRANKENSTEIN was banned outright in several foreign countries — all of which makes one wonder which was worse to the audiences of the 1930s: a little girl’s murder, or a man who got a little too excited when he resurrected the dead.

RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932)

RED-HEADED WOMAN is a pre-code extravaganza. Seduction. Blackmail. Attempted murder.  A films that finds Jean Harlow (known, actually, for being blonde) as Lilian “Lil” Andrews, a woman from Ohio with little prospects, she is determined to improve her station in life — even if it means destroying relationships along the way.

Pre-code Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman
Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman

First, she breaks up her wealthy boss Bill’s marriage. The affair leads to her marriage to Bill. which Lil then uses as a stepping stone to be accepted in high society. But when the scandal doesn’t fit well with the high society types, Lil moves on and bedding Charles, a coal tycoon. When said tycoon throws a lavish party for her, Lil is humiliated by still not being accepted by the high society crowd (they apparently have really high standards).

She then moves to New York, where she has yet another affair — this time with a French chauffeur named Albert. Bill has followed her, and after hiring a private detective, now has proof of his wife’s affairs. He confronts Charles with the evidence.

When Lil learns that Charles has become aware of her latest affair, she returns to Bill — only he has reconciled with his ex-wife. Filled with rage, Lil shoots him. Bill survives, but out of feelings for her, refuses to press charges. He does, however, divorce her.

Years pass, and Bill eventually sees Lil again, this time at a racetrack in Paris. in the company of an old Frenchman (the implication being that, yes, she has moved on to her next affair). The movie ends with Lil and her elderly companion getting into a limousine driven by Albert, who apparently is either not bothered by the new arrangement, or is maybe part of a threesome (ok, maybe I was the only one thinking that).

Poster for Red -Headed Woman
Poster for Red -Headed Woman

In its review, The Motion Picture Herald wrote: “Sexy, racy, bristling with snappy dialogue, funny, RED-HEADED WOMAN is loaded with dynamite that can be dynamic entertainment, or an explosion of objections unless you handle it properly…” The film was a success, and oddly enough created a popular anti-hero out of Lil as an independent woman and female libertine. So confident in her skin, she spends much of the film in various states of undress.

But it was the suggestion that a loose woman could succeed by acting so badly (pun intended) that rubbed some audience members the wrong way.

THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (1933)
Ad
A Wild Streak!

A film that created a commotion before filming even began, THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE was based on a highly controversial novel (Sanctuary) by William Faulkner.

In the film adaptation, the titular character, a young woman from a prominent Mississippi family, is raped and forced into prostitution by a bootlegger named Trigger.  Trigger, a sort of backwoods gangster, is such a bad guy that he not only rapes Temple, but murders a young boy who tries to protect her. When another man is charged with the murder, Temple tries to leave Trigger,  but he threatens her with bodily harm. She grabs his gun, and shoots Trigger dead.

After returning to her family, Temple is persuaded by a kindly lawyer to tell the truth about the first murder in front of a jury in order to save the defendant’s life. But Temple is ashamed of the rape and her time as a prostitute. She perjures herself in court, resulting in the execution of an innocent man.

Ad
From the Beatrice Daily Sun, Nebraska

Modern film critics and theorists have spent some time over the years debating if Temple’s actions are to be seen as the tragic result of being victimized, or the evolution in sin for a woman who enjoyed being a gangster’s moll but was ashamed of her own decisions. Certainly, the promotional materials of the time did not know how to “sell” the film. In typical pre-code fashion, she is referred to suggestively as “the dramatic victim of her own desire” (see ad from the Beatrice Daily Sun in August 1933).

Made to be the archetypal bad girl, she is given little sympathy and made to appear as if she brought the tragic events of her life on herself. The novel on which the film is based blurs such lines even further. But with rape and murder essential to their respective plots, it is easy to see how filmgoers and fans of the Hays Code would question if there were any clearly defined lines of morality at all?

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933)
Ginger Rogers n Gold Diggers of 1933
Ginger Rogers is “…in the Money”

Busby Berkeley’s lavish production numbers in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 left little of the female form to the imagination. Costumes were deemed too skimpy, and dance routines, lewd.  Ginger Rogers, dressed in little more than glittering coins shows off her, um, assets during her (quite literal) solo: “We’re in the Money.”

Based on a play that ran between 1919 and 1920, as well as a silent film in 1923, then a successful talkie in 1929, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 was one of the highest grossing pictures in the year of its release.

A fun-filled spectacle, it was light entertainment for an audience dealing with the Great Depression. In fact, many references to the Great Depression are made in the film, raising the ritz and glitz of the picture above the stark, depressing realities of everyday living.  So how could this kind of entertainment raised the ire of those who wanted to institute a code of conduct for filmmakers? Why is it thought to be a prime representation of pre-code Hollywood?

Easy. The suggestion of easy women, to be precise.

The plot is pretty simple. Trying to find work in an industry out of step with everyday societal woes, four showgirls compete for roles in a new Broadway revue. When the show becomes a success, the girls find themselves accused of being gold diggers by the high society crowd. One girl, Carol (played by former vaudeville actress Joan Blondell), is outright labeled “cheap and vulgar.”

It all ends happily with three of the four girls married. But not before four major lavish musical numbers involving women in various stages of undress.

"Pettin' in the Park" screen scene
“Pettin’ in the Park”‘s screen scene

Some states heavily censored the racy “Pettin’ in the Park” routine where girls get soaked in the rain and have to change clothes behind sheer screens. Later, dozens of women lay about in the grass, getting groped by their suitors. A 9-year-old Billy Barty — who would later go on to television fame as the dwarf in Spike Jones’ ensemble — almost loses his ball up a woman’s skirt. It’s a little bizarre. And while it may seem innocent by today’s standards, the voyeurism and sexual  innuendo were in definite violation of the code.

A year after the film’s release, the Code went into effect. More innocent musicals and light-hearted comedies would become popular. Much of sexuality and violence was implied, and truly adult themes were kept to the shadows. It was pretty much the last hurrah of pre-code pictures.

POST-CODE

As the age of Pre-Code Hollywood came to a close, films of the late thirties and nineteen forties became relatively tame. Moralists were happy that few couples shared beds, bad guys always got what was coming to them (often, off-screen), and bad girls? They were few and far between.

But, as it always does, culture shifts. A second world war would shake things up. Film noir, with its femme fatales, reintroduced the truly bad guy, and the sultry bad girl — like Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946). Post-war cinema laid the groundwork for the more mature offerings of the 1950s and 60s.

A new wave of European cinema along with competition from a medium built for more wholesome entertainment — television — meant the Hollywood would once again openly challenge social mores. In all practicality, the return of sex, violence, and other adult themes to movies may have been motivated by the need to simply compete with TV and get butts back in the seats.

 
The Moon is Blue (1953)

Otto Preminger alone would push boundaries with three of his films in the nineteen fifties: The Moon is Blue (1953) — with its adult themes of sexuality; The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) — openly about drug abuse; and Anatomy of a Murder (1959) — which dealt with rape and, as the title makes clear, murder.

But it is with The Moon is Blue that Preminger came up against the Hays Code. From 1934 to 1954, Joseph Breen was the administrator appointed by Hays to enforce the code. The Breen office told Preminger that his screenplay violated the code for its open “treatment of illicit sex and seduction.” Preminger made changes. Breen’s office still objected, and Preminger went ahead and made the movie anyway.

Come the 1960s, more films challenged the code: Psycho (1960) — with its violence; The Pawnbroker (1964) — with nudity in, of all places, a concentration camp; and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) — full of what was deemed at the time to be foul language. Woolf? had the distinction of being the first to bear the “Suggested for Mature Audiences” label. The fact that it also won several Academy Awards (http://www NULL.tcm NULL.com/tcmdb/title/95743/Who-s-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-/awards NULL.html) meant that, by 1966, filmmakers were becoming aware that audiences were ready for a change.

The Hays office would none too coincidentally close the year that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was released, and the MPAA film rating system we know today went into effect soon thereafter.

Now, pre-code films seem somewhat dated. From our twenty-first century perspective, these films seem quite tame on the surface. But dig a little deeper into the subject matter, and the suggestion of deviance in all its many forms is there. Pre-code motion pictures are more sophisticated than they would first appear to be.

It is the reason these films still continue to hold sway over movie-goers. Facebook groups are devoted to pre-code Hollywood. And actresses like Joan Blondell and Jean Harlow are celebrated for their unabashed sexuality.

A good thing, too. As pre-code pictures tell us a lot about who we were, who we are, and who we will continue to be as a culture that is still split on matters puritanical and risqué.